Published: Sat, January 07, 2017
Entertainment | By Alexander Flowers

SeaWorld is absolutely to blame for Tilikum's death

The national scrutiny after Brancheau's death forced SeaWorld to put an end to the most famous element of its Shamu shows: trainers performing in the water with killer whales.

Tillicum, a SeaWorld orca involved in the death of a trainer from in and the inspiration for a movie about the ethics of keeping killer whales in captivity, has died. In a statement, the park said the killer whale's official cause of death won't be determined until a necropsy is complete.

"Tilikum passed away early this morning, January 6, surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians that provided him around-the-clock world-class care", the statement said.

-Tilikum, the killer whale profiled in a 2013 documentary that argued against keeping orcas in captivity, died at a SeaWorld facility in Orlando on Friday, December 30.

In 2010, trainer Dawn Brancheau leaned over Tilikum's tank, was grabbed in his jaws by her hair and drowned as a result of the subsequent thrashing.

In 1991 Tilikum was sharing a tank with two female orcas, Haida II and Nootka IV, at Sealand of the Pacific, when 21-year-old part-time trainer Keltie Byrne fell into their pool. "Tilikum is a very disturbed and risky animal", said David Kirby, the author of a book called Death at SeaWorld.

In March, SeaWorld announced it would phase out its killer whale shows by 2019.

"While today is a hard day for the SeaWorld family, it's important to remember that Tilikum lived a long and enriching life while at SeaWorld and inspired millions of people to care about this incredible species", the statement said. "My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family".

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"When the trainer at Sealand was killed it started the beginning of the end of orcas in captivity", Johnson said.

"Tilikum lived longer than nearly any other captive male orca has, but his life was one of deprivation and difficulty", Animal Welfare Institute marine mammal scientist Naomi Rose said in a press release.

In 1999, Tilikum killed again, drowning Daniel Dukes, who somehow managed to get in to his SeaWorld Orlando pool after hours.

Tilikum was not born at or collected by SeaWorld. (In the past, dead SeaWorld animals were usually taken to a rendering plant.) Many at SeaWorld, including close friends of Brancheau's, will feel his loss.

Adversaries of SeaWorld and of the capturing of wild orcas believe that holding massive creatures like Tilikum in captivity is what causes them to turn violent.

It was not the first time Tilikum had been involved in the death of a human.

Widespread outrage triggered boycotts at the park and legislation in California that banned the breeding of captive orcas and changed how they are used for entertainment.

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