Marine amusement park franchise SeaWorld has announced the death of Tilikum, the orca whale who brought international attention to intelligent species held in captivity. His age was estimated at 36 years old.
The whale's cause of death is not yet confirmed, but SeaWorld revealed in a statement that Tilikum had been suffering from "a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection."
In 2010, Tilikum killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau during a performance. The incident inspired the 2013 film Blackfish, which documented scientists and former SeaWorld employees who alleged abuses and mental strain endured by the orcas held at SeaWorld, including Tilikum. SeaWorld vigorously denied the film's claims, but it was too late: after the film's release, SeaWorld's stock price dropped 60 percent with profits falling by 84%. In 2015, PETA claimed that SeaWorld had sent an employee to infiltrate the organization.
SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby announced the end of the orca breeding program and the "phasing out of" theatrical orca shows in 2016. "The encounters will focus on orca enrichment, exercise and overall health, and align with our mission to advance the well-being and conservation of these beautiful creatures," the company has claimed.
Watch the trailer for Blackfish below.