Tilikum, the SeaWorld Whale that Killed Trainer and Inspired 'Blackfish', Dies in Captivity

In 2010, Tilikum killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in front of park guests by dragging her to the bottom of his pool

Tilikum, the SeaWorld whale that inspired the controversial documentary Blackfish, has died, according to SeaWorld.

The park announced the death of the 36-year-old orca on Friday.

“The SeaWorld family is deeply saddened to announce that one of its most well-known orcas, Tilikum, has passed away. Tilikum passed away early this morning, January 6, surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians that provided him around-the-clock world-class care,” SeaWorld said in a statement.

In March of last year, it was announced that the infamous whale had fallen ill, suffering from a bacterial infection in his lungs that was resistant to treatment. It is not clear if this health issue was a contributing factor in Tilikum’s death; SeaWorld says they will release the official cause of death after a necropsy is completed.

Tilikum has sired 21 calves in the 25 years he has lived at SeaWorld, but is best known for his part in the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. After a ‘Dining with Shamu’ dinner show, the whale grabbed the veteran trainer and dragged her to the bottom of his pool, killing her in front of numerous guests.


This event, plus two other incidents that included the captive whale, inspired and were included in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which argues that life at SeaWorld is unnatural and unhealthy for the animals, many of whom live in small enclosures and are trained to perform for humans.

Since the release of the film, SeaWorld has announced that it is planning to phase out orca shows to focus on more natural behaviors and that the parks are putting an end to their orca breeding programs as well.

Tilikum came to the park 25 years ago after being transferred from Sealand in Canada.

Regardless, of Tilikum’s checkered life at SeaWorld, the park says the whale has left a positive mark on countless staff members and guests.

“Tilikum had, and will continue to have, a special place in the hearts of the SeaWorld family, as well as the millions of people all over the world that he inspired,” said President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”

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