TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - Tilikum,
the orca who killed several people and was featured in the
documentary "Blackfish" making the case against keeping orcas in
captivity, died on Friday, SeaWorld Entertaintment Inc said.
Thought to be about 36 years old, Tilikum drew international
attention for dragging a SeaWorld trainer underwater to her
death during a 2010 show in Florida.
Tilikum had been experiencing declining health and receiving
treatment for a bacterial lung infection, the company said in a
news release. It noted that an official cause of death would not
be known until a necropsy was completed.
“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,” SeaWorld President and CEO
Joel Manby said in a statement.
The theme park saw its image tarnished after the release of the
2013 documentary, which depicted the captivity and public
exhibition of killer whales as cruel.
The film chronicled the life of Tilikum, who was captured in
1983 around the age of 2. He spent 25 years in SeaWorld's care.
In addition to killing trainer Dawn Brancheau in front of
horrified guests in Orlando, Tilikum was involved in the deaths
of a worker at a different marine park in 1991 and an Orlando
tourist who was found on the whale's back in 1999 after
trespassing into its tank.
"From the moment he was taken from his ocean family, his life
was tragic and filled with pain, as are the lives of the other
animals who remain in SeaWorld's tanks and exhibits," Lisa
Lange, senior vice president for People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals (PETA) in a statement.
Tilikum was bred 21 times, with 11 of his offspring previously
dying, PETA noted.
After the documentary and protests by PETA, SeaWorld cut jobs,
lost promotional deals and faced attendance drops. The company
last year pledged to stop breeding killer whales in captivity
and to phase out its whale entertainment shows.
With Tilikum's death, SeaWorld now has 22 orcas at parks in
Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego.
The company noted that Tilikum was slightly older than wild
killer males live in the region that he came from.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says males
typically live for 30 years, but can see 50 to 60 years, while
females typically live 50 years and can reach up to 100 years.
The world's oldest known killer whale, known as Granny, whose
age was estimated to be over 100 years when she went missing
last autumn, according to researchers.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
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