Tilikum Cause of Death: How Did the Killer Whale Die?

Tilikum, SeaWorld’s famous killer Orca whale – who was featured in the documentary, Blackfish – has died.

The whale’s cause of death is not yet clear, but he was suffering from a “persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection,” according to USA Today.

The newspaper said the whale was 36-years-old, and the whale’s cause of death will be determined by a necropsy. SeaWorldCares says that’s at the high end of a typical whale’s average life expectancy.

The killer whale generated news headlines around the world in 2010 when he “pulled SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau into the pool and killed her during a show despite the staff’s best efforts to save her,” US Weekly reported.

According to US Weekly, Tilikum “was also involved in two other deaths: Keltie Byrne, a trainer at Sealand of the Pacific, in 1991, and Daniel Dukes, a trespasser who entered the whale’s tank at SeaWorld after-hours, in 1999.” Those incidents provided the inspiration for Blackfish, a 2013 documentary that “gave a deeper look into the problems of whales in captivity, the magazine reported.

SeaWorld Cares said: “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 organization said the whale was old for that species of animal.

“Like all older animals, Tilikum had faced some very serious health issues. While the official cause of death will not be determined until the necropsy is completed, the SeaWorld veterinarians were treating a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection. The suspected bacteria is part of a group of bacteria that is found in water and soil both in wild habitats and zoological settings,” SeaWorld Cares added.

SeaWorld Cares stressed that the whale received the best possible treatment.

“Tilikum’s veterinarians and caretakers delivered various treatment regimens over the course of this illness, which consisted of, among other things, combinations of anti-inflammatories, anti-bacterials, anti-nausea medications, hydration therapy and aerosolized antimicrobial therapy,” the organization 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,” said President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby on SeaWorld Cares. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”