Tilikum, the killer whale at the center of the controversial documentary Blackfish, died on January 6, SeaWorld announced on its website. The orca was reportedly ailing in March last year, suffering from a bacterial lung infection, and finally passed at the estimated age of 35, “surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians that provided him around-the-clock world-class care,” according to SeaWorld.
But as the documentary depicted, there was a great deal of opposition to keeping Tilikum, and the other orcas at the Orlando-based water park, captive. The response of animal rights group PETA to the death was unambiguous: “R.I.P. Tilikum – Dead after three decades of misery.” Tilikum was involved in the deaths of three people, notably SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was pulled underwater in front of a shocked audience in 2010—which the film used to demonstrate the stresses on orcas in captivity.
Tilikum’s death comes after SeaWorld, under pressure from environmental groups and others, announced in March 2016 that it would end the breeding of orcas at the park. There are still 22 orcas at SeaWorld’s three parks in Florida, Texas and California.
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