SeaWorld: Tilikum the killer whale dies after lung infection

Credit: Gerardo Mora

Credit: Gerardo Mora

Tilikum, the orca at the center of the 2013 documentary film "Blackfish," has died, SeaWorld officials said Friday.

Tilikum died early Friday while surrounded by trainers, care staff and veterinarians, according to SeaWorld. His cause of death was not immediately known, although amusement park officials said he was being treated for "a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection" before his death.

"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 and CEO Joel Manby said. "My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family."

He was estimated to be about 36 years old.

Tilikum was brought to SeaWorld after Canada's Sealand of the Pacific closed in 1992. He has been at the amusement park ever since.

The orca was profiled in "Blackfish," a documentary that helped sway popular opinion against keeping killer whales in captivity at SeaWorld parks.

In 2010, Tilikum killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau when he grabbed her after a "Dine with Shamu" show and pulled her into the pool.

Tilikum was also involved in the deaths of two other people in the 1990s.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.