Tilikum (orca)

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Tilikum during a 2009 performance at SeaWorld
Species Orcinus orca
Breed Icelandic
Sex Male
Born c. November 1981 (age 34)
Years active 1982 – present
Weight 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg)

Tilikum (born c. November 1981),[1] nicknamed Tilli,[2] is a bull orca at SeaWorld Orlando, Florida. He formerly lived at Sealand of the Pacific in South Oak Bay, British Columbia. He has sired 21 calves, with 10 still alive. In the Chinook Jargon of the Pacific Northwest, the name means "friends, relations, tribe, nation, common people."[3]

Tilikum has been involved in the deaths of three people during his time in captivity: a trainer at the now-defunct Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia, a trainer at Orlando's SeaWorld, and a man trespassing on SeaWorld Orlando's property. Tilikum is heavily featured in CNN Films' 2013 documentary Blackfish.


Tilikum measures 22.5 feet (6.9 m) long and weighs over 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg).[4] His pectoral fins are 7 feet (2.1 m) long, his fluke curls under, and his 6.5-foot-tall (2.0 m) dorsal fin is collapsed completely to his left side. He is the largest orca in captivity. Tilikum's vocals are higher than other male orcas his size.[citation needed]

Sealand of the Pacific[edit]

Tilikum was first owned by Sealand of the Pacific, now closed, in South Oak Bay, British Columbia, near the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island, Canada. There, 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.[5]

First death[edit]

On February 20, 1991, Keltie Byrne, a 21-year-old marine biology student and competitive swimmer, slipped into the pool containing Tilikum, Haida II and Nootka IV while working as a part-time Sealand trainer. The three orcas submerged her, dragging her around the pool and preventing her from surfacing.[5] At one point she reached the side and tried to climb out but, as horrified visitors watched from the sidelines, the orcas pulled her screaming back into the pool. Other trainers responded to her screams, throwing her a life-ring, but the orcas kept her away from it. She surfaced three times screaming before drowning, and it was several hours before her body could be recovered from the pool.[6][7] Both females were pregnant at the time, which was not known to the trainers.[8][9][10]

Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida on January 9, 1992.[11] Sealand of the Pacific closed soon afterward.[12]

Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando (2009)

Second death[edit]

On July 7, 1999, a 27-year-old man named Daniel P. Dukes was found dead over Tilikum's back.[13] Dukes had visited SeaWorld the previous day, stayed after the park closed, and evaded security to enter the orca tank. An autopsy found numerous wounds, contusions, and abrasions covering his body,[14] concluding that Dukes died from drowning. The medical examiner reports that no drugs or alcohol were found in Dukes' system.[14][15][16][17] Dukes was given a posthumous Darwin Award for his actions.[18]

Third death[edit]

On February 24, 2010, Tilikum was involved in a third incident when he killed Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer.[19][20] Brancheau was killed following a "Dine with Shamu" show. The veteran trainer was rubbing Tilikum as part of a post-show routine when the whale grabbed her by her left arm and hair and pulled her into the water.[21] At least a dozen patrons witnessed Brancheau in the water with Tilikum. Employees used nets and threw food at Tilikum in an attempt to distract him.[15]

Moving from pool to pool in the complex, they eventually directed Tilikum to a smaller, medical pool, where it would be easier to calm him. He subsequently released Brancheau's body. A SeaWorld executive, witnesses and video footage from right before the attack confirm that Brancheau was lying with her face next to Tilikum's on a slide-out (a platform submerged about a foot into water). SeaWorld stated that the trainer was pulled into the water by her ponytail as seen on video caught moments before the attack.[22] However, witnesses to the incident stated that the trainer was pulled into the water by her arm.[15][23]

Brancheau's autopsy indicated death by drowning and blunt force trauma. The autopsy noted that her spinal cord was severed and she had sustained fractures to her jawbone, ribs, and a cervical vertebra. Her scalp was completely torn off from her head and her left arm had been severed below the shoulder.[24]

On August 23, 2010, the park was fined US$75,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for three safety violations, two directly related to Brancheau's death. SeaWorld issued a statement that called OSHA's findings "unfounded".[25] Although Brancheau's widower, Scott Brancheau, hired a Chicago law firm that specializes in wrongful-death litigation, he has not taken any legal action against SeaWorld.[26]

Return to performing[edit]

Tilikum returned to performing on March 30, 2011. High pressure water hoses are used to massage him, rather than hands, and removable guardrails have also begun to be used on the platforms. There are plans to install false-bottom floors that can lift trainers and whales out of the pools in under a minute. He has been paired with his grandson Trua, and can often be seen performing alongside him during the finale of the new "One Ocean" Show. He has on occasion been kept with his daughter Malia, or both Trua and Malia at the same time.[27] In December 2011, he was put on hiatus from the shows following an undisclosed illness. He resumed performing at SeaWorld Orlando in April 2012.[28]


Tilikum is the most prolific sire in captivity, with 21 offspring, 10 of which are still alive.[29] While living in Sealand, Tilikum sired his first calf Kyuquot, which was born to Haida II on December 24, 1991. Since his arrival at SeaWorld, Tilikum has sired many calves with different female orcas:

  1. Kyuquot (1991)
  2. SOP-9201 (1992 - died after 36 days, cause unknown)
  3. Nyar (1993–1996)
  4. Taku (1993-2007)
  5. SWF-9401 (1994 - stillbirth)
  6. SWF-9601 (1996 - stillbirth)
  7. Unna (1996 - 2015)
  8. SWF-9701 (1997 - stillbirth)
  9. Sumar (1998–2010)
  10. Tuar (1999)
  11. Tekoa (2000)
  12. Nakai (2001)†
  13. SWT-0101 (2001 - stillbirth)
  14. Kohana (2002)†
  15. Ikaika (2002)
  16. Skyla (2004)
  17. SWF-0501 (2005 - miscarriage unconfirmed)
  18. Malia (2007)
  19. Sakari (2010)
  20. SWF-1001 (2010 - stillbirth)
  21. Makaio (2010)

† In 1999, Tilikum began training for artificial insemination. In early 2000, Kasatka, who resides at SeaWorld San Diego, was artificially inseminated using his sperm. She gave birth to a male calf, Nakai, on September 1, 2001. On May 3, 2002, another female in San Diego, named Takara, bore Tilikum's calf through artificial insemination. The calf was a female, named Kohana.


  • Daughters: Unna*, SWF-9701, Nyar*, Kohana, Skyla, Malia and Sakari.
  • Sons: Kyuquot, SOP-9201 (1992-1992), Taku*, Sumar*, Tuar, Tekoa, Nakai, Ikaika, Makaio
  • Offspring unknown: SWF-9401, SWF-9601, SWF-0501 and SWF-1001,SWT-0101,
  • Granddaughters: Nalani, Victoria*
  • Grandsons: Trua, Adán


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 "we know from SeaWorld's own director of safety (as well as videos on the web)" that SeaWorld obtains sperm from Tilikum by having a person "get into the pool and masturbate him with a cow's vagina filled with hot water" which 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".[30] 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 "do not now, nor have they ever entered the water with Tilikum for this purpose."[31]

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.[32] 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.[33][34][35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Document shown in documentary Blackfish states "born 12/1981"
  2. ^ "Intentions of Whale in Killing Are Debated". New York Times. February 26, 2010. 
  3. ^ Watson, Kenneth (Greg) (July 2002). "Chinook Jargon". White River Journal. White River Valley Museum. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Tilikum". cetacousin.bplaced.net. Cetacean Cousins. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "Inside Seaworld - The Tilikum Transaction". PBS Frontline. 
  6. ^ Hoyt, Eric (1992). "The Performing Orcas - why the show must stop". Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. 
  7. ^ Zimmerman, Tim (2011). "The Killer in the Pool". The Best American Sampler 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 336. 
  8. ^ "Trainer dragged to death by whales". Toronto Star. February 21, 1991. 
  9. ^ Helm, Denise (March 4, 2010). "Tilikum incident still haunts Wright". Oak Bay News. 
  10. ^ "Sealand opens its doors for first show since drowning". The Vancouver Sun. March 4, 1991. 
  11. ^ "SeaWorld Memorandum" (PDF). 
  12. ^ "Oak Bay Marine Group timeline". 
  13. ^ "Corpse Is Found on Whale". New York Times. July 7, 1999. Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Bonner, Stayton (July 7, 1999). "Daniel Dukes' Medical Examiners Report". Scribd. Retrieved July 9, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c Zimmermann, Tim (July 30, 2010). "The Killer in the Pool". Outside Online. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  16. ^ Greene, Leonard (February 27, 2010). "SeaWorld whale mauls and kills trainer in front of audience". New York Post. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Park Is Sued Over Death of Man in Whale Tank". New York Times. September 29, 1999. Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  18. ^ Killer Whale Rodeo
  19. ^ "SeaWorld trainer killed by killer whale". CNN. February 25, 2010. Retrieved March 11, 2010. 
  20. ^ Ed Pilkington (February 25, 2010). "Killer whale Tilikum to be spared after drowning trainer by ponytail". London: The Guardian. Retrieved March 11, 2010. 
  21. ^ "New details emerge in death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer in orca incident". Latimesblogs.latimes.com. February 24, 2010. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  22. ^ Myers, Anika (February 27, 2010). "Sea World trainer killed: Shamu Believe show resumes with standing ovation". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved March 11, 2010. 
  23. ^ "SeaWorld Trainer Death Theory Debunked as a Ponytail Tale". theorcaproject.wordpress.com. The Orca Project. Retrieved May 10, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Autopsy report" (PDF). Autopsy report. Office of the Medical examiner, district nine, FL. Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  25. ^ "OSHA fines SeaWorld for worker safety issues following orca trainer's death". Los Angeles Times. August 23, 2010. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  26. ^ Garcia, Jason (August 24, 2010). "SeaWorld trainer's family hires lawyers". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved August 24, 2010. 
  27. ^ "He's so dangerous trainers can't work with him directly... but SeaWorld puts Tilikum the whale who killed his trainer back on show". Daily Mail. March 30, 2011. Retrieved March 20, 2011. 
  28. ^ "SeaWorld Tilikum sick". Orlando Sentinel. December 22, 2011. Retrieved December 22, 2011. 
  29. ^ Fielding, James (November 17, 2013). "SeaWorld whale that 'killed' three still being used to breed, former worker claims". Express UK. 
  30. ^ "Tommy Lee Explodes Over Whale Sperm" (PDF). TMZ. December 7, 2010. 
  31. ^ Gina Serpe (December 8, 2010). "Tommy Lee Is Against Whale Masturbation. Who Isn't?". eonline.com (E! News). 
  32. ^ Kinosian, Janet. "Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite gets in deep with 'Blackfish'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 27, 2013. 
  33. ^ Duke, Alan. "Barenaked Ladies' SeaWorld gig is off after viewing 'Blackfish'". Retrieved December 27, 2013. 
  34. ^ David, John P. "Blackfish Backlash Continues". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 27, 2013. 
  35. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/01/16/us/ap-us-travel-brief-seaworld-entertainers-canceling.html?hp

External links[edit]