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ORLANDO (CBSMiami) — SeaWorld Orlando’s most famous, or infamous, killer whale has passed away.

Park officials say Tilikum died early Friday morning.

“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 President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”

The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” chronicled Tilikum’s life and fueled criticism of SeaWorld by animal rights’ activists.

The film suggested that captivity and SeaWorld’s treatment of the whales provokes violent behavior, which in turn has led to the death of trainers. “Blackfish” explores the death of veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was pulled off a platform and killed by a whale named Tilikum in 2010. The film argues that the whales become more aggressive toward humans and each other when they are kept in captivity.

Brancheau’s death and the negative impact from the documentary led to changes at the park.

First, trainers were no longer allowed in the water with the killer whales.

Manby then announced that they were going to discontinue the parks iconic shows of killer whales doing flips and other stunts and instead will offer a different kind of orca experience focusing on the animal’s natural setting and its behaviors.

The first of the new orca experience shows will begin SeaWorld San Diego this year. SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Antonio will follow next year.

This past March, SeaWorld announced that they were going to end their orca breeding program, effectively making the whales currently at SeaWorld the last generation of orcas under human care.

Tilikum was not born at or collected by SeaWorld. He came to the parks from Sealand of the Pacific in Canada nearly 25 years ago. He was estimated to be around 36-years-old which is near the high end of the average life expectancy for male killer whales according to an independent scientific review.

Like all older animals, Tilikum had faced some very serious health issues. 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.


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