Tilikum (killer whale)
Tilikum during a 2009 performance at SeaWorld
|Born||c. December 1981|
|Died|| (aged 35)|
|Offspring||21 (10 alive as of January 2017)|
|Weight||12,500 lb (5,700 kg)|
Tilikum (c. December 1981 – January 6, 2017), nicknamed Tilly, was a captive orca, who spent most of his life performing at SeaWorld Orlando. He was captured in Iceland in 1983 at Hafnarfjörður, near Reykjavík. About a year later, he was transferred to Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia. He was subsequently transferred in 1992 to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida. He sired 21 calves, of which ten are still alive.
Tilikum was heavily featured in CNN Films' 2013 documentary Blackfish, which claims that orcas in captivity suffer psychological damage and become unnaturally aggressive. Tilikum was involved in the deaths of three people: Keltie Byrne – a trainer at the now-defunct Sealand of the Pacific, Daniel Dukes – a man trespassing in SeaWorld Orlando, and SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau.
Tilikum was a large bull orca; the largest in captivity. He measured 22.5 feet (6.9 m) long and weighed about 12,500 pounds (5,700 kg). His pectoral fins were 7 feet (2.1 m) long, his fluke curled under, and his 6.5-foot-tall (2.0 m) dorsal fin was collapsed completely to his left side.
Tilikum was captured when he was two years old, along with two other young orcas, by a purse-seine net in November 1983, at Berufjörður, Iceland. After almost a year in a tank at the Hafnarfjördur Marine Zoo, he was transferred to Sealand of the Pacific, in Oak Bay, a suburb of the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island, Canada. At Sealand, he lived with two older female orcas named Haida II and Nootka IV. Tilikum was at the bottom of the social structure, and Haida II and Nootka IV behaved aggressively towards him, including forcing him into a smaller medical pool where trainers kept him for protection.
While orca attacks on humans in the wild are rare, and no fatal attacks have been recorded, as of 2019 four humans have died due to interactions with captive orcas. Tilikum was involved in three of those deaths.
On February 20, 1991, Keltie Byrne, a 21-year-old marine biology student and competitive swimmer, slipped and fell into the pool containing Tilikum, Haida II and Nootka IV while working as a part-time Sealand of the Pacific trainer. The three orcas submerged her, dragging her around the pool and preventing her from surfacing. At one point, she reached the side and tried to climb out, but the orcas pulled her back into the pool. Other trainers threw her a life-ring, but the orcas kept her away from it, ignoring trainer's recall commands. She surfaced three times before drowning, and it was several hours before her body could be recovered from the pool.
On July 6, 1999, a 27-year-old man, Daniel P. Dukes, was found dead over Tilikum's back in his sleeping pool. Dukes had visited SeaWorld the previous day, stayed after the park closed, and evaded security to enter the orca tank unclothed. An autopsy found numerous wounds, contusions, and abrasions covering his body that were allegedly caused by Tilikum. Despite numerous cameras around and inside the pool, that are supposed to monitor orca's wellbeing, SeaWorld claims the event wasn't captured. The autopsy concluded that Dukes' cause of death was drowning. The medical examiner reports that no drugs or alcohol were found in Dukes' system.
On February 24, 2010, Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer. Brancheau was killed following a Dine with Shamu show. The veteran trainer was rubbing Tilikum as part of a post-show routine when the orca grabbed her by her ponytail and pulled her into the water. Some witnesses reported seeing Tilikum grab Brancheau by the arm or shoulder. Brancheau's autopsy indicated death by drowning and blunt force trauma.
Return to performing
Tilikum returned to performing on March 30, 2011. High pressure water hoses were used to massage him, rather than hands, and removable guardrails were used on the platforms, as OSHA has restricted close contact between orcas and trainers and reinforced safety precautions on the workplace after Dawn Brancheau's death. He was paired with his grandson Trua and was often seen performing alongside him during the finale of the new One Ocean show. He had on occasion been kept with his daughter Malia, or both Trua and Malia at the same time. In December 2011, he was put on hiatus from the shows following an undisclosed illness. He resumed performing at SeaWorld Orlando in April 2012.
Tilikum had 21 offspring in captivity, 11 of which were alive as of November 2013.
While at Sealand of the Pacific, Tilikum sired his first calf when he was about eight or nine years old. His first son, Kyuquot, was born to Haida II on December 24, 1991. Just a few months prior to the birth of Kyuquot, Tilikum was involved in the first incident involving a death. Seaworld requested an emergency transfer of Tilikum to their facility. Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida, on January 9, 1992. Sealand of the Pacific closed soon thereafter.
Following his arrival at SeaWorld, Tilikum sired many calves with many different females. His first calf born in Orlando was to Katina. Katina gave birth to Taku on September 9, 1993. Taku died on October 17, 2007.
Among Tilikum's other calves are: Nyar (born 1993, died 1996), Unna (1996–2015), Sumar (1998–2010), Tuar (1999), Tekoa (2000), Nakai (2001), Kohana (2002), Ikaika (2002), Skyla (2004), Malia (2007), Sakari (2010) and Makaio (2010).
In 1999, Tilikum began training for artificial insemination (AI). In early 2000, Kasatka who resided at SeaWorld San Diego was artificially inseminated using his sperm. She gave birth to Tilikum's son, Nakai, on September 1, 2001. On May 3, 2002, another female in San Diego, named Takara, bore Tilikum's calf through artificial insemination. Tilikum was also the first successful, surviving grandfather orca in captivity with the births of Trua (2005), Nalani (2006), Adán (2010) and Victoria (2012–2013).
On December 7, 2010, TMZ reported that SeaWorld's president, Terry Prather, received a letter from PETA and Mötley Crüe member Tommy Lee referencing SeaWorld's announcement regarding limiting human contact with Tilikum. In the letter, Lee refers to Tilikum as SeaWorld's "Chief Sperm Bank" and asserts that the relevant process constitutes continued human contact. The letter implores SeaWorld to release Tilikum from his tank, stating, "I hope it doesn't take another tragic death for SeaWorld to realize it shouldn't frustrate these smart animals by keeping them [confined] in tanks." On December 8, 2010, the SeaWorld VP of Communications responded to Lee's letter via E! News, stating that PETA's facts were not only inaccurate, but that SeaWorld trainers also "do not now, nor have they ever entered the water with Tilikum for this purpose".
Tilikum and the captivity of other orcas is the main subject of the documentary film Blackfish, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013 and caused a drop in SeaWorld attendance and revenue. The film and a subsequent online petition led to several popular musical groups cancelling performances at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens' "Bands, Brew & BBQ" event in 2014.
Declining health and death
SeaWorld announced in March 2016 Tilikum's health was deteriorating, and it was thought he had a lung infection due to bacterial pneumonia, a common cause of death in captive and wild whales and dolphins. In May 2016, it was reported Tilikum's health was improving. On January 6, 2017, SeaWorld announced that Tilikum had died early in the morning. The cause of death was bacterial infection.
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