Sea World’s famous Orca Tilikum, the inspiration behind the movie “Blackfish”, died early Friday morning. The 36-year old whale has lived at Seaworld Orlando since 1991 and has recently had experienced very serious health issues related to a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection.
Tilikum was captured in Iceland in 1983 at Hafnarfjörður, near Reykjavík. A year later, he was transferred to Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia.
SeaWorld said he died surrounded by trainers, care staff and veterinarians. A cause of death is yet to be determined and a necropsy is planned.
During training in February 2010, Tilikum was interacting with trainer 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando’s Shamu Stadium when he unexpectedly grabbed her by the ponytail and pulled her underwater. Brancheau died as a result. The incident sparked a backlash against SeaWorld and inspired the movie “Blackfish,” which questioned the ethics of orcas in captivity.
A medical examiner determined Brancheau’s death was accidental.
SeaWorld recognized Brancheau in a blog post about Tilikum, saying the killer whale will be “inextricably connected” to her death. After the incident, SeaWorld continued to allow Tilikum, who weighed 12,000 pounds, to mix and mate with the rest of the orcas.
Reaction to the movie Blackfish prompted the bands and singers Heart, Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, .38 Special, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, The Beach Boys, Trace Adkins and Trisha Yearwood to cancel their concerts at the “Bands, Brew & BBQ” event at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa in 2014. SeaWorld announced afterward it had suffered a $15.9 million loss, which CEO James Atchison attributed in part to high ticket prices and poor weather.
Across the country, SeaWorld said in August 2014 that the film had hurt revenues at its San Diego, California, park as well. The company’s share price had fallen 44% in 2014.