magnifier menu chevron-left chevron-right chevron-down

Tilikum Dead at 36: SeaWorld’s Controversial ‘Blackfish’ Killer Whale Dies In Captivity

Tilikum SeaWorld Killer Whale Dead at 36

Getty Images/Gerardo Mora

It’s a sad day for animal lovers everywhere.

Tilikum—an orca who became the central figure of the 2013 documentary Blackfish after he killed his SeaWorld trainer—has died in captivity at the age of 36.

The controversial killer whale died early Friday morning, according to an official statement from SeaWorld. Although his exact cause of death has not yet been determined, officials said that he suffered from “very serious health issues” as an older animal.

“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,” SeaWorld President & CEO Joel Manby said in a statement Friday morning. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”

Tilikum was SeaWorld’s most prolific and profitable killer whale, fathering 14 calves over the past 25 years. He became the focus of international controversy when he killed his trainer Dawn Brancheau in front of a live audience in 2010, sparking a worldwide debate over whether or not killer whales and other highly intelligent sea animals should be kept in captivity. Prior to Brancheau’s death, he was involved in the deaths of two other people.

Thankfully, SeaWorld announced in March of 2016 that the theme park would end its breeding program and involvement of killer whales in its theatrical programs.

I am a UC Berkeley grad and lover of wine, cheese, travel and reality television. Feel free to contact me at You can follow me on Instagram @you_feta_believe_it.