Responsible for the deaths of three people, including two trainers, the SeaWorld orca known as Tilikum died on Friday while suffering from serious health issues. Although SeaWorld claims that Tilikum lived “a long and enriching life,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) immediately released a statement asserting Tilikum had been exploited for decades while living a tragic existence mired in incessant loss and pain.
The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” follows the life of a captive orca named Tilikum responsible for the deaths of three people. On February 20, 1991, Tilikum and two other orcas dragged a SeaLand of the Pacific trainer named Keltie Byrne into the water and killed her. Tilikum was transferred to SeaWorld Orlando where he killed a park guest named Daniel Dukes on July 6, 1999. And on February 24, 2010, Tilikum grabbed a trainer named Dawn Brancheau by her ponytail and pulled her into the water. According to Brancheau’s autopsy report, Tilikum removed her arm, scalped her, and caused blunt force trauma to her entire body.
Following Tilikum’s death on Friday, SeaWorld released a statement saying, “While today is a difficult day for the SeaWorld family, it’s important to remember that Tilikum lived a long and enriching life while at SeaWorld and inspired millions of people to care about this amazing species.
“Tilikum’s life will always be inextricably connected with the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Dawn Brancheau. While we all experienced profound sadness about that loss, we continued to offer Tilikum the best care possible, each and every day, from the country’s leading experts in marine mammals.”
According to SeaWorld, Tilikum was estimated to be about 36-years-old and had been suffering from serious health conditions prior to his death. Despite the fact that an official cause of death has not been determined, SeaWorld veterinarians were treating Tilikum for a persistent bacterial lung infection and suspect a series of bacterial complications lead to his death.
“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,” stated President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”
In response to Tilikum’s death, PETA released the following statement: Tilikum – the ‘star’ of Blackfish, the damning documentary about SeaWorld’s miserable practice of ripping orca babies from their ocean families and then breeding them in captivity – is dead following decades of exploitation in the marine-mammal abusement industry.
Tilikum was captured from the ocean, taken from his family, and stuck in a small cement cell, less than a hundred millionth the size of the waters he would swim in if left with his family. He was not only forced to perform meaningless tricks for food but also sexually manipulated, his sperm taken to produce more baby orcas for SeaWorld to use and sell. His human captors (who dishonestly call Tilikum part of their “family” – although a family doesn’t kidnap its members from their rightful mothers, keep them in a barren and closet-sized space for life, and exploit them for decades for profit) had been forced to admit that Tilikum was sick, then, finally, that he was dead– perhaps from chemicals in the tank, no one knows yet – but his death was only the culmination of a miserable lifetime of confinement.
SeaWorld’s announcement that it is ending its orca-breeding program came too late for Tilikum, who was forcibly bred 21 times – with 11 of his offspring dying before him. His life was tragic and filled with pain, and the lives of the animals forced to remain in SeaWorld’s tanks and exhibits will be as well. Tilikum should be the last orca to die in misery at a SeaWorld amusement park.
SeaWorld still holds 22 other orcas in captivity at its three facilities in Orlando, San Antonio, and San Diego.