SeaWorld's famous orca whale is dead after being held in captivity for decades. Tilikum gained world-wide fame from the film "Blackfish." This documentary featured the killer whale that lived up to its name after killing three people in its lifetime. The film brought worldwide attention to the aggressive behavior of the killer whales, associated with being kept in captivity. It also highlighted the treatment of these majestic ocean-dwellers.

Killer whale lived up to its name

According to NPR, this orca whale was made famous because of the movie "Blackfish," but people might also remember this killer whale for killing its trainer.

The orca held its trainer under water, drowning her back in 2010. The video of the SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau with Tilikum saturated the Internet at the time of this horrific event. Brancheau died from drowning, along with blunt force trauma to her head. The trauma was from the whale thrashing her around while she was still alive.

Aggressive behavior

Brancheau was Tiliku's third victim, bringing up all kinds of backlash about letting this happen again. Back in the 1990s this killer whale's aggressive behavior was responsible for two more deaths. The orca drowned another trainer and the body of a man was found in the killer whale's tank with evidence of the man being killed by the orca. It was a few years after the death of Dawn Brancheau that the 2013 documentary "Blackfish" came out.

This documentary is thought to be responsible for the major shift in the treatment of the orca whales.


Because Tilikum's demonstrated aggressive behavior from being held in captivity, outcry was heard across the globe over keeping orcas in containment. The backlash over this documentary prompted SeaWorld to stop breeding these killer whales in captivity.

Tilikum was captured off the coast of Iceland and the whale's handlers put the orca's age at 36, which is old for a whale that has been held in captivity all its life. The orca sired 20 calves while in captivity, first at the Sealand of Pacific, which has closed down, and then at SeaWorld Orlando, where Tilikum lived and died.

Cause of death

The orca died of a "persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection," according to NPR News. Tilikum died with its trainers and vets surrounding the whale. The trainers report the whale had been ailing for some time and was being treated with various medications and therapy. The official cause of the orca's death won't be known until a necropsy is completed, which is the equivalent of a human autopsy.

Powerful orca

At 11,000 pounds and 22-feet long, Tilikum had a lot of power behind him when he became aggressive. After the whale killed its trainer in 2010, there was a big push from the public for SeaWorld to release the orca back into the wild. That never happened because the whale would not have survived in the ocean after living all those years in captivity.