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'Blackfish' Star, Famous SeaWorld Killer Whale Tilikum Dies

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Globally-famed killer whale Tilikum of SeaWorld Orlando has passed away on the morning of Jan. 6, after a long illness, leaving behind a spate of mourners.

The 36-year-old whale's death came despite the maximum care extended by staff, trainers, and veterinarians. According to SeaWorld, old age had taken a toll on Tilikum's health and it was suffering from a lung infection.

The official announcement on the real cause of death will be out only after the necropsy report is processed. SeaWorld said the whale had a problem of bacterial lung infection that is contracted mainly from water and soil in zoological and wildlife surroundings.

In a statement, SeaWorld hailed Tilikum's legacy as that of an "ambassador animal" of the park.

"While today is a difficult day for the SeaWorld family, it's important to remember that Tilikum lived a long and enriching life while at SeaWorld and inspired millions of people to care about this amazing species," the park said.

 "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," said Joel Manby, President & CEO of SeaWorld.

Turbulent Life

Tilikum, with its 22 feet of length and 12,000 pounds of weight, had transformed into an amusement object for tourists from its original self as a wild predator over the years.

Caught from Iceland at the age of two, it came to SeaWorld Orlando after an incident in a Canadian marine park.

Though Tilikum's death has been attributed to bacterial infection, observers do not rule out the stress of captivity making the killer whale succumb to infections than in a free world.

Tilikum, after being separated from his mother's side off the coast of Iceland in 1983, underwent an agonizing life that shows everything wrong with captivity. Staying motionless in the tank for hours was an unconventional protest and breaking his teeth by chewing the sides of the tank was another way to show his seething desperation.

Called as Tili affectionately, the whale was intelligent and expressed its visible frustration in captivity. Its record of killing three people, including two trainers was also part of that. At SeaWorld, he killed Dawn Brancheau, a trainer after dragging her into the water in 2010.

The whale's saga came before the world through the American documentary "Blackfish" directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite which discussed the captivity of orcas in marine parks like SeaWorld. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up CNN Films for wider release.

The anguish sparked by the film brought some qualitative changes including the end of SeaWorld's orca breeding program.

Outpouring Of Emotion

Meanwhile, Tili's death has sparked emotions among its trainers and the cast of "Blackfish", who mourned the animal's challenges while exulting its legacy.

"We will each remember Tilikum in our own special way," Kimberly Ventre, "Blackfish" trainer Jeffrey Ventre's sister, said.

"His life has changed how we view SeaWorld and the marine park industry and changed our moral calculus regarding the confinement and display of intelligent, free-ranging species," said Tim Zimmermann, Blackfish co-writer.

Now with Tilikum gone, SeaWorld has 22 orcas to take care of at its facilities in San Antonio, Orlando, and San Diego. It has been announced that the One Ocean show at SeaWorld Orlando will continue as scheduled.

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