×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tilikum, SeaWorld Orca Featured in ‘Blackfish’ Documentary, Dies

Tilikum, the orca featured heavily in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary “Blackfish,” died Friday morning after 25 years of living at SeaWorld.

SeaWorld announced Friday that the whale, believed to be 36, passed away early in the morning after months of deteriorating health. SeaWorld veterinarians believe the cause of death was a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection, though a necropsy will be performed to confirm. He had been fighting the illness since March.

In a statement, SeaWorld’s president and CEO Joel Manby said, “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. My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”

In 1982, a fishing net captured Tilikum in Iceland. He spent the next few years in a zoo in Reykjavik and at the Sealand of the Pacific public aquarium in British Columbia. In 1992, SeaWorld acquired Tilikum and began to use him to breed killer whales. He’s since sired 21 calves. Tilikum’s transfer to SeaWorld Orlando occurred following the death of a young marine biology student who was killed by Tilikum and his two female companions. Sealand of the Pacific closed shortly after the fatalities. After his transfer, Tilikum killed two others while at SeaWorld.

Tilikum and the “Blackfish” documentary caused a stir when the film premiered in 2013. The scandal, stemming from the alleged stress placed on orcas in captivity and Tilikum’s role in the human deaths, caused SeaWorld to roll back its orca program. In November, SeaWorld announced plans to end killer-whale shows. In March, three years after the film’s release, the theme park announced it would further cut down orca involvement at SeaWorld by ending its breeding program and phasing out all live performances using the animals.

In the wake of the film, which was nominated for a BAFTA Award, dozens of celebrities condemned SeaWorld for its treatment of killer whales, an apex predator in most of the world’s oceans. Some, including the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson and Heart, even went so far as to cancel performances at SeaWorld-sponsored events. The backlash also is thought to be responsible for financial loss to the park in the months following.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • "Jade Dynasty" in front at the

    China Box Office: 'Jade Dynasty' in Front Ahead of Mixed Competition

    With “Jade Dynasty” in front, Chinese-made action and Asian animation films led the way at the China box office over the past weekend. Although a few American titles are in play, they’ve failed to attract a crowd.  Chinese action fantasy “Jade Dynasty” led the weekend box office in its debut with $38.1 million, figures from [...]

  • The Painted Bird

    Venice Competition Film 'The Painted Bird' to Be Czech Entry in Oscar Race

    Václav Marhoul’s “The Painted Bird,” which world premiered at the Venice Film Festival in the main competition and also played at Toronto Film Festival in Special Presentations, has been selected as the Czech Republic’s entry for the 92nd Academy Awards in the foreign language film category. The pic follows the journey of an unnamed boy [...]

  • Pakistan Picks Freshman Effort 'Laal Kabootar'

    Pakistan Picks Freshman Effort 'Laal Kabootar' as Its Oscar Entry

    Pakistan’s Academy Selection Committee has chosen “Laal Kabootar” as its candidate for the Oscars’ international feature film category. Directed by first-time helmer Kamal Khan, the gangland thriller set in Karachi’s underbelly follows the events that transpire when a woman in search of her husband’s killer is thrown together with a cab driver and petty criminal [...]

  • Atlantis

    Toronto Film Review: 'Atlantis'

    “It took you 10 years to cleanse this region of Soviet propaganda and myths,” says one character to another in “Atlantis,” going on to suggest that the devastation now left behind may never be “cleansed” at all. A strikingly bleak vision of a near future in which Ukraine has won its war with Russia but [...]

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

  • Jason Lei Howden, Samara Weaving and

    Daniel Radcliffe On Acting With Weapons Nailed To Your Hands

    How did “Guns Akimbo” director and writer Jason Lei Howden convince Daniel Radcliffe to play a character with guns nailed to his hands? Easy, he sent him the script. Radcliffe joined Howden and “Ready or Not’s” breakout star Samara Weaving in the Variety’s Toronto Film Festival studio, presented by AT&T to talk the limits of [...]

  • Box Office: It Chapter Two Maintains

    Box Office: 'It: Chapter Two' Continues International Reign With $47 Million

    Pennywise’s reign of terror hasn’t wavered: Warner Bros.’ “It Chapter Two” maintained first place on box office charts, led by another strong showing overseas. The sequel, based on Stephen King’s horror novel, generated another $47 million at the international box office for a foreign tally of $169 million. After two weeks of release, “It Chapter [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content