Star of Blackfish, and quite possibly the worlds most infamous orca, Tilikum died this morning after battling a variety of illnesses including a drug-resistant bacterial lung infection. At the present time, the reason for the killer whale’s death is unknown.
Tilikum called SeaWorld in Orlando his home after being caught off of Iceland in 1983 at the age of two. He was only 36-years old.
If you’ve ever seen Blackfish, you know how tragic a life Tilikum’s was. The 22 footlong and 12,000 pound orca was forced to survive in the glass and concrete walls of SeaWorld instead of the open water. He is most well known for drowning trainer Dawn Brancheau in his pool on Feb. 24, 2010, as well as another trainer in 1991, and a trespasser in 1999.
As said by National Geographic writer Brian Clark Howard, “Tilikum had been transformed from a wild, apex predator to an amusement for tourists.”
Blackfish co-writer Tim Zimmermann stated, “Instead of the iconic, happy killer whale celebrated by SeaWorld and its fans for five decades, Tilikum demanded the world confront his reality, Shamu’s reality, which involved separation from family, confinement, boredom, chronic disease, aggression among marine park killer whales, and aggression against trainers.”
Tilikum’s life and Blackfish called into question just how animals fare in captivity leading many to boycott SeaWorld and whale shows. The SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment company announced that they would begin to phase out animal-based shows and this weekend, SeaWorld San Diego will host its final orca show on Sunday. (California Governor Jerry Brown also signed a bill requiring SeaWorld to end killer whale breeding and entertainment shows.)
Similarly this week, the world’s oldest orca, fondly known as Granny, is presumed dead.
Breaching through the Pacific Northwest, Granny escaped being sold to a marine park in the 1960s and continued on to lead a pod of orcas for another 50 years. She has not been seen since October, and her death “brings that endangered population of killer whales down to 78 from a likely high in the 1800s of 200 or more.”
No one truly know’s Granny’s age but is estimated that she is likely between 60 to 80. One estimate even suggests that she was 105.
Given the death of these two whales, it’s hard not to question the life span and quality of life for these animals in captivity.