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SeaWorld orca that killed trainer is nearing death

New York Daily News New York Daily News 9/03/2016 TOBIAS SALINGER
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The SeaWorld killer whale made infamous by the documentary “Blackfish” is close to dying, company executives said Tuesday.

Tilikum’s 2010 killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau and links to two other deaths led the film on SeaWorld’s treatment of its orcas. The company’s staff estimate the whale is 35 years old, which is at the high end of a male orca’s average lifespan.

He has become “increasingly lethargic” in recent weeks and medical staff believe he is ailing from a bacterial infection in his lungs, executives said on “SeaWorld Cares,” one of the company’s blogs.

“If Tilikum would have shown up with this disease in the wild, there’s no doubt in my mind he’d have been gone a long time ago,” SeaWorld veterinarian Dr. Scott Gearhart said in a video on Tilikum included in the blog post.

“I wish I could say I was tremendously optimistic about Tilikum and his future,” Gearhart said. “But he has a disease which is chronic and progressive and at some point might cause his death.”

The defunct Sealand of the Pacific in Canada captured Tilikum in 1983, and he moved to SeaWorld 23 years ago. A Sealand trainer who fell into a tank holding Tilikum and several other whales drowned in 1991, and a man was found dead on Tilikum’s back after apparently sneaking into his tank for an overnight swim in 1999, the Orlando Sentinel reported.


“Blackfish” blamed the psychological effect of SeaWorld captivity on Tilikum’s attack and drowning of Brancheau. The parent company’s gate receipts have fallen each year since the film was released in 2013 and it also faces multiple lawsuits, SeaWorld Entertainment’s latest annual report shows.

Company executives admitted last month they sent an employee to infiltrate the ranks of The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which opposes the theme parks. PETA said on Twitter Tuesday that Tilikum should be allowed to “swim in the ocean one last time.”

“If Tilikum never sees the ocean again, after being stolen from it 30 years ago, his blood will be on #SeaWorld's hands,” PETA tweeted.

Yet Tilikum has fathered more than 20 calves during his time at SeaWorld, NPR reported. He and 28 other orcas live as part of “our family” at SeaWorld parks, where the care for the animals is accredited by The Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums, according to the company.

Tilikum, the orca. © Reuters Tilikum, the orca. Tilikum receives blood testing at least once a week and staff feed him antibiotics and antifungal medications daily. He can be seen in the company’s video getting petted and kissed by his trainers, one of whom said the killer whale’s days consist of “doing the things that he really seems like he’s interested in.”

“What I know is that every day that I'm here, and every day that these amazing veterinarians are here, he will receive the best care," said SeaWorld director of animal training Kelly Flaherty Clark.

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