Tilikum during a 2009 performance at SeaWorld
|Born||c. November 1981 (age 34)|
|Years active||1983 – present|
|Weight||12,500 pounds (5,700 kg)|
Tilikum (born c. November 1981), nicknamed Tilly, is a bull orca. He was captured in 1983 at Hafnarfjörður, near Reykjavík, Iceland; after a year he was transferred to Sealand of the Pacific in South Oak Bay, British Columbia. He was transferred in 1992 to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida.
Tilikum has been involved in the death of three people: a trainer at the now-defunct Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia, a man trespassing on SeaWorld Orlando's property, and a trainer at Orlando's SeaWorld. Tilikum is heavily featured in CNN Films' 2013 documentary Blackfish.
He has sired 21 calves, of whom ten are still alive. In the Chinook Jargon of the Pacific Northwest, the name means "friends, relations, tribe, nation, common people". SeaWorld announced in March 2016 that Tilikum's health was deteriorating and that it is thought that he has a lung infection caused by a rare and resistant bacterium. In May 2016, it was reported that Tilikum's health is improving.
Tilikum measures 22.5 feet (6.9 m) long and weighs about 12,500 pounds (5,700 kg). 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 was captured in 1983 when he was two years old, along with two other young orcas, by a purse-seine net in November 1983, at Berufjördur, Iceland. After almost a year in a tank at a zoo in Reykjavik, he was transferred to Sealand of the Pacific, in South Oak Bay, British Columbia, near the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island, Canada. (Sealand closed in 1992.)
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.
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. 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.
On July 6, 1999, a 27-year-old man, Daniel P. Dukes, was found dead over Tilikum's back. 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 that were caused by Tilikum. 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 left arm and pulled her into the water. 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 are used to massage him, rather than hands, and removable guardrails have also begun to be used on the platforms. 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. 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 has had 21 offspring in captivity, 10 of which are still alive.
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." 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. 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.
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