Losing a well known zoological animal is never easy. Today, we remember the life of Tilikum, an orca who, despite a difficult history, was an incredible ambassador that brought the wonder of the ocean to millions of guests every year. After 35 years of inspiring the public, Tilikum passed away from a bacterial infection in his lungs.
Tilikum was the largest orca in the care of man, weighing an average of 12,000 pounds, and measuring 22 feet long. His distinctive dots in his eye patch, curved dorsal fin and flukes, and of course, incredible size, made him easily recognizable at his home for the best years of his life, SeaWorld Orlando.
Tilikum is one of only 5 orcas remaining at SeaWorld from the first generation of captured orcas. Captured from the waters off Iceland by a long-past zoological company in the early 1980s, Tilikum lived at Sealand of the Pacific in Canada for the early years of his life. Compounded by uninformed behavioral conditioning and unsuitable conditions, Tilikum was involved in a fatality of trainer Keltie Byrne, prompting his move to SeaWorld Orlando to be cared for by leaders in the zoological industry.
SeaWorld provided world-class care to Tilikum, taking care to account for his special circumstances as a result of his early years. Unfortunately, working with top predator of the sea carries risk, and Tilikum was involved in another fatality with veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Dawn was a talented performer and behaviorist and is missed every day by her friends and coworkers, who continue provide world class care to SeaWorld orcas.
Despite his involvement in tragic events, the Shamu training team at SeaWorld Orlando never wavered in their commitment to provide innovative and meaningful care to Tilikum every day. Throughout his life, SeaWorld continue to create new and innovative ways to care for Tilikum, from playtimes with water hoses to toys made of car wash straps new ways to treat the bacterial infection he battled in recent months.
Tilikum was an impressive ambassador and important member of the SeaWorld family. He will be missed by the public that admired him and the trainers who cared for him.