68ºF

SeaWorld killer whale Tilikum dies

Tilikum linked to 3 human deaths, including trainer Dawn Brancheau

photo

ORLANDO, Fla. – Tilikum, SeaWorld Orlando's infamous killer whale, has died, the park said.

The 36-year-old orca died early Friday at SeaWorld Orlando from an apparent bacterial lung infection, according to a report from WKMG.

"Like all older animals, Tilikum had faced some very serious health issues," SeaWorld said. "While the official cause of death will not be determined until the necropsy is completed, the SeaWorld veterinarians were treating a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection. The suspected bacteria is part of a group of bacteria that is found in water and soil both in wild habitats and zoological settings."

Tilikum dragged SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau underwater in 2010, killing her.

"Tilikum’s life will always be inextricably connected with the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Dawn Brancheau," the park said. "While we all experienced profound sadness about that loss, we continued to offer Tilikum the best care possible, each and every day, from the country’s leading experts in marine mammals."

Tilikum became a part of SeaWorld’s family 25 years ago. 

“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. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”

The killer whale was also linked to two other human deaths.

In 1997, 27-year-old Daniel Dukes, of South Carolina, climbed into Tilikum's tank after hours. Duke's body was found floating in the tank. 

In 1991, when a 20-year-old trainer slipped into a tank in British Columbia, Tilikum and two other whales tossed her around and the trainer drowned.

Tilikum was not born at or collected by SeaWorld. The park obtained the killer whale from Sealand of the Pacific in Canada. 

In March, SeaWorld announced the end of its orca breeding program, effectively making the whales currently at SeaWorld the last generation of orcas under human care.