Tilikum (orca)

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For other uses, see Tillicum.
Tilikum (orca) (Shamu).jpg
Tilikum during a 2009 performance at SeaWorld
Species Orcinus orca
Breed Icelandic
Sex Male
Born c. November 1981 (age 35)
Years active 1983 – present
Weight 12,500 pounds (5,700 kg)

Tilikum (born c. November 1981),[1] nicknamed Tilly,[2] 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.[3] He was transferred in 1992 to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida.[3]

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".[4] 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.[5][6]


Tilikum measures 22.5 feet (6.9 m) long and weighs about 12,500 pounds (5,700 kg).[7] 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 at SeaWorld Orlando (2009)


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.[3] After almost a year in a tank at a zoo in Reykjavik, he was transferred to Sealand of the Pacific,[3] 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.[8]

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.[8] 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.[9][10][11][12][13]

Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida on January 9, 1992.[14] Sealand of the Pacific closed soon afterward.[15]

Second death[edit]

On July 6, 1999, a 27-year-old man, Daniel P. Dukes, was found dead over Tilikum's back.[16] 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.[17] The autopsy concluded that Dukes' cause of death was drowning. The medical examiner reports that no drugs or alcohol were found in Dukes' system.[3][17][18][19]

Third death[edit]

Main article: Dawn Brancheau

On February 24, 2010, Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer.[20][21] 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 or left arm, according to differing eye-witness reports, and pulled her into the water.[22][23][24] Brancheau's autopsy indicated death by drowning and blunt force trauma.[25]

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. 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.[26] In December 2011, he was put on hiatus from the shows following an undisclosed illness. He resumed performing at SeaWorld Orlando in April 2012.[27]


Tilikum has had 21 offspring in captivity, 10 of which are still alive.[28]


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."[29] 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."[30]

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.[31] 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.[32][33]

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. ^ a b c d e Zimmermann, Tim (July 30, 2010). "The Killer in the Pool". Outside Online. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  4. ^ Watson, Kenneth (Greg) (July 2002). "Chinook Jargon". White River Journal. White River Valley Museum. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  5. ^ Entertainment, SeaWorld Parks &. "Caring for Tilikum The Killer Whale". seaworldcares.com. Retrieved March 10, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Tilikum, Subject of Documentary 'Blackfish,' Very Ill – SeaWorld of Hurt". SeaWorld of Hurt. Retrieved March 10, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Tilikum". cetacousin.bplaced.net. Cetacean Cousins. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  8. ^ a b "Inside Seaworld – The Tilikum Transaction". PBS Frontline. 
  9. ^ Hoyt, Eric (1992). "The Performing Orcas – why the show must stop". Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. 
  10. ^ Zimmerman, Tim (2011). "The Killer in the Pool". The Best American Sampler 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 336. 
  11. ^ "Trainer dragged to death by whales". Toronto Star. February 21, 1991. 
  12. ^ Helm, Denise (March 4, 2010). "Tilikum incident still haunts Wright". Oak Bay News. 
  13. ^ "Sealand opens its doors for first show since drowning". The Vancouver Sun. March 4, 1991. 
  14. ^ "SeaWorld Memorandum" (PDF). 
  15. ^ "Oak Bay Marine Group timeline". 
  16. ^ "Corpse Is Found on Whale". New York Times. July 6, 1999. Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  17. ^ a b Bonner, Stayton (July 7, 1999). "Daniel Dukes' Medical Examiners Report". Scribd. Retrieved July 9, 2013. 
  18. ^ Greene, Leonard (February 27, 2010). "SeaWorld whale mauls and kills trainer in front of audience". New York Post. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Park Is Sued Over Death of Man in Whale Tank". New York Times. September 29, 1999. Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  20. ^ "SeaWorld trainer killed by killer whale". CNN. February 25, 2010. Retrieved March 11, 2010. 
  21. ^ Ed Pilkington (February 25, 2010). "Killer whale Tilikum to be spared after drowning trainer by ponytail". London: The Guardian. Retrieved March 11, 2010. 
  22. ^ Ed Pilkington. "Killer whale Tilikum to be spared after drowning trainer by ponytail". the Guardian. 
  23. ^ http://www.theweek.co.uk/people-news/14945/seaworld-trainer-‘dragged-death-her-long-hair’
  24. ^ "New details emerge in death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer in orca incident". Latimesblogs.latimes.com. February 24, 2010. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Autopsy report" (PDF). Autopsy report. Office of the Medical examiner, district nine, FL. Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  26. ^ "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. 
  27. ^ "SeaWorld Tilikum sick". Orlando Sentinel. December 22, 2011. Retrieved December 22, 2011. 
  28. ^ Fielding, James (November 17, 2013). "SeaWorld whale that 'killed' three still being used to breed, former worker claims". Express UK. 
  29. ^ "Tommy Lee Explodes Over Whale Sperm" (PDF). TMZ. December 7, 2010. 
  30. ^ Gina Serpe (December 8, 2010). "Tommy Lee Is Against Whale Masturbation. Who Isn't?". eonline.com. E! News. 
  31. ^ Kinosian, Janet. "Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite gets in deep with 'Blackfish'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 27, 2013. 
  32. ^ Duke, Alan. "Barenaked Ladies' SeaWorld gig is off after viewing 'Blackfish'". Retrieved December 27, 2013. 
  33. ^ David, John P. "Blackfish Backlash Continues". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 27, 2013. 

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