Tilikum (orca)

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Tilikum during a performance at SeaWorld in 2009
SpeciesOrcinus orca
BreedIcelandic Transient
Bornc. December 1981 (age 31–32)
Nation fromIceland
EmployerSeaWorld Orlando
Weight12,000 pounds (5,400 kg)
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Tilikum during a performance at SeaWorld in 2009
SpeciesOrcinus orca
BreedIcelandic Transient
Bornc. December 1981 (age 31–32)
Nation fromIceland
EmployerSeaWorld Orlando
Weight12,000 pounds (5,400 kg)

Tilikum (born c. December 1981),[1] nicknamed Tilly,[2] is a bull orca who lives in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando, Florida, and formerly Sealand of the Pacific in South Oak Bay, British Columbia. He has sired 21 calves, with 11 still alive. He has also been involved in the deaths of two trainers and a SeaWorld visitor.[3][4] In the Chinook Jargon of the Northwest, the name means "friends, relations, tribe, nation, common people."[5]


Tilikum measures 22.5 feet (6.9 m) long and weighs 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg).[6] His pectoral fins are 7 feet (2.1 m) long, his flukes curl under, and his 6.5 feet (2.0 m)-tall dorsal fin is collapsed completely to his left side. He is the largest orca in captivity. Tilikum's vocals are higher than other male orcas his size.[citation needed]


Tilikum was captured in Berufjörður off the east coast of Iceland on November 9, 1983 at about two years of age, along with two other orcas named "Nandu" and "Samoa". As of 2013 he performs at Seaworld Orlando, following a year-long hiatus after the death of Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

Tilikum in display tank

Sealand of the Pacific

Tilikum was first assigned to Sealand of the Pacific, now closed, in South Oak Bay, British Columbia, near the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island, Canada. There, he lived with two older female orcas named Haida II and Nootka IV. Tilikum was at the bottom of the social structure, and Haida II and Nootka IV behaved aggressively towards him, including forcing him into a smaller medical pool where trainers kept him for protection.[7] Sealand of the Pacific utilized food motivation as part of their training methods, and food was withheld from Tilikum when he did not respond to trainer instructions.[citation needed] The three orcas' pen was separated from the ocean by a net; the owner of Sealand of the Pacific, Bob Wright, worried that at night the orcas might chew through the net, or an activist might cut it to free them. Thus, at night, the orcas were moved to a holding module 20 feet (6.1 m) deep and 28 feet (8.5 m) in diameter.[citation needed]

First death

On February 20, 1991, Keltie Byrne, a 20-year-old marine biology student and competitive swimmer, slipped into the pool containing Tilikum, Haidi II and Nootka IV while working as a part-time Sealand trainer. The three orcas submerged her, dragging her around the pool and preventing her from surfacing.[7] At one point she reached the side and tried to climb out but, as horrified visitors watched from the sidelines, the orcas pulled her screaming back into the pool. Other trainers responded to her screams, throwing her a life-ring, but the orcas kept her away from it. She surfaced three times screaming before drowning, and it was several hours before her body could be recovered from the pool.[8][9] Both females were pregnant at the time, which was not known to the trainers.[10][11][12]

Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida on January 9, 1992. Sealand of the Pacific closed soon afterward.[13]

Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando (2009)

Second death

On July 6, 1999, a 27-year-old man named Daniel P. Dukes was found dead and nude, draped over Tilikum’s back.[14] Dukes had visited SeaWorld the previous day, stayed after the park closed, and evaded security to enter the orca tank. An autopsy of the body found multiple wounds, contusions, and abrasions, and concluded he may have died from hypothermia and drowning. It also noted "laceration and avulsion of the scrotum with testes".[15][16][17][18]

Third death

On February 24, 2010, Tilikum was involved in a third incident when he killed Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer.[19][20] Brancheau was drowned after a "Dine with Shamu" show. At least a dozen patrons witnessed Brancheau in the water with Tilikum; however, it is unclear how many patrons witnessed enough of the incident to understand at the time that it was out of the ordinary. Employees used nets and threw food at Tilikum in an attempt to distract him.[15]

Moving from pool to pool in the complex, they eventually directed Tilikum to a smaller, medical pool, where it would be easier to calm him. He subsequently released Brancheau's body. A SeaWorld executive, witnesses and video footage from right before the attack confirm that Brancheau was lying with her face next to Tilikum's on a slide-out (a platform submerged about a foot into water). SeaWorld misrepresented the cause of the incident, claiming that the trainer was pulled into the water by her ponytail and that it may have got caught in Tilikum's teeth, stating further that the trainer's hair may have also been confused for a toy or a fish because Bracheau had been holding a fish previously and may have touched her hair afterwards, leaving the scent.[21] However, witnesses to the incident stated that the trainer was pulled into the water by her arm.[15][22] Brancheau's autopsy indicated death by drowning and blunt force trauma. The autopsy noted that her spinal cord was severed, she had been scalped, her upper-left extremity had been completely avulsed, and she sustained fractures to her jawbone, ribs and a cervical vertebra, as well as a lacerated liver.[23]

On August 23, 2010, the park was fined US$75,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for three safety violations, two directly related to Brancheau's death. SeaWorld issued a statement that called OSHA's findings "unfounded".[24] Although Brancheau's widower, Scott Brancheau, hired a Chicago law firm that specializes in wrongful-death litigation, he has not taken any legal action against SeaWorld.[25]

Return to performing

Tilikum returned to performing on March 30, 2011. The trainers have continued their court-ordered policy of doing no water work with the orca. High pressure water hoses are used to massage him, rather than hands, and removable guardrails have also begun to be used on the platforms. There are plans to install false-bottom floors that can lift trainers and whales out of the pools in under a minute. Despite claims that Tilikum is kept alone and separated from the remaining orcas,[citation needed] he has been paired with his grandson Trua, and can often be seen performing alongside him during the finale of the new "One Ocean" Show. He has on occasion been kept with his daughter Malia, or both Trua and Malia at the same time.[26] In December 2011, he was put on hiatus from the shows following an undisclosed illness. He resumed performing in the spring of 2012.[27]


Tilikum is the most successful sire in captivity, with 21 offspring, 11 of which are still alive.[3] While living in Sealand, Tilikum sired his first calf Kyuquot, which was born to Haida II on December 24, 1991. Since his arrival at SeaWorld, Tilikum has sired many calves with different female orcas:

  1. Kyuquot (1991),
  2. SOP-9201 (1992. Died after 36 days, cause unknown),
  3. Nyar (1993–1996),
  4. Taku (1993-2007),
  5. SWF-9401 (1994 Stillbirth),
  6. SWF-9601 (1996 Stillbirth),
  7. Unna (1996),
  8. SWF-9701 (1997 Stillbirth),
  9. Sumar (1998–2010),
  10. Tuar (1999),
  11. Tekoa (2000),
  12. Nakai (2001) †,
  13. SWT-0101 (2001 Stillbirth),
  14. Kohana (2002),
  15. Ikaika (2002),
  16. Skyla (2004),
  17. SWF-0501 (2005 Miscarriage unconfirmed),
  18. Malia (2007),
  19. Sakari (2010),
  20. SWF-1001 (2010 Stillbirth),
  21. Makaio (2010).

† In 1999, Tilikum began training for artificial insemination. In early 2000, Kasatka who resides at SeaWorld San Diego was artificially inseminated using his sperm. She gave birth to a male calf, Nakai, on September 1, 2001. On May 3, 2002, another female in San Diego, named Takara, bore Tilikum's calf through artificial insemination. The calf was a female, named Kohana.



On December 7, 2010, TMZ reported that PETA and Mötley Crüe member Tommy Lee sent a letter to Terry Prather, SeaWorld's president, referencing SeaWorld's announcement regarding limiting human contact with Tilikum. In the letter, Lee refers to Tilikum as SeaWorld's "Chief Sperm Bank" and asserts that "we know from SeaWorld's own director of safety (as well as videos on the web)" that SeaWorld obtains sperm from Tilikum by having a person "get into the pool and masturbate him with a cow's vagina filled with hot water" which constitutes continued human contact. The letter implores SeaWorld to release Tilikum from his tank stating "I hope it doesn't take another tragic death for SeaWorld to realize it shouldn't frustrate these smart animals by keeping them [confined] in tanks".[28] On December 8, 2010, the SeaWorld VP of Communications responded to Mr. Lee's letter via E! News, stating that PETA's facts were not only inaccurate, but that SeaWorld trainers "do not now, nor have they ever entered the water with Tilikum for this purpose."[29]

Tilikum is the subject of a critical documentary film Blackfish, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013.

See also


  1. ^ Document shown in documentary Blackfish states "born 12/1981"
  2. ^ "Intentions of Whale in Killing Are Debated". New York Times. February 26, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Fielding, James (November 17, 2013). "SeaWorld whale that ‘killed’ three still being used to breed, former worker claims". Express UK. 
  4. ^ "Trainer: Tilikum past darker than SeaWorld said". cbsnews.com. CBS News. March 31, 2011. 
  5. ^ Watson, Kenneth (Greg) (July 2002). "Chinook Jargon". White River Journal. White River Valley Museum. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Tilikum". cetacousin.bplaced.net. Cetacean Cousins. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "Inside Seaworld - The Tilikum Transaction". PBS Frontline. 
  8. ^ Hoyt, Eric (1992). "The Performing Orcas - why the show must stop". Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. 
  9. ^ Zimmerman, Tim (2011). "The Killer in the Pool". The Best American Sampler 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 336. 
  10. ^ "Trainer dragged to death by whales". Toronto Star. February 21, 1991. 
  11. ^ Helm, Denise (March 4, 2010). "Tilikum incident still haunts Wright". Oak Bay News. 
  12. ^ "Sealand opens its doors for first show since drowning". The Vancouver Sun. 4 March 1991. 
  13. ^ "Oak Bay Marine Group timeline". 
  14. ^ "Corpse Is Found on Whale". New York Times. July 7, 1999. Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  15. ^ a b c Zimmermann, Tim (July 30, 2010). "The Killer in the Pool". Outside Online. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  16. ^ Greene, Leonard (February 27, 2010). "SeaWorld whale mauls and kills trainer in front of audience". New York Post. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Park Is Sued Over Death of Man in Whale Tank". New York Times. September 29, 1999. Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  18. ^ Bonner, Stayton (July 7, 1999). "Daniel Dukes' Medical Examiners Report". Scribd. Retrieved July 9, 2013. 
  19. ^ "SeaWorld trainer killed by killer whale". CNN. February 25, 2010. Retrieved March 11, 2010. 
  20. ^ Ed Pilkington (February 25, 2010). "Killer whale Tilikum to be spared after drowning trainer by ponytail". London: The Guardian. Retrieved March 11, 2010. 
  21. ^ Myers, Anika (2010-02-27). "Sea World trainer killed: Shamu Believe show resumes with standing ovation". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  22. ^ "SeaWorld Trainer Death Theory Debunked as a Ponytail Tale". theorcaproject.wordpress.com. The Orca Project. Retrieved May 10, 2011. 
  23. ^ Cox, Marty (Apr 1, 2010). "SeaWorld Trainer Autopsy Released From February Killer Whale Attack". nationalledger.com. National Ledger. Retrieved Apr 7, 2010. 
  24. ^ "OSHA fines SeaWorld for worker safety issues following orca trainer's death". Los Angeles Times. August 23, 2010. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  25. ^ Garcia, Jason (August 24, 2010). "SeaWorld trainer's family hires lawyers". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved August 24, 2010. 
  26. ^ "He's so dangerous trainers can't work with him directly... but SeaWorld puts Tilikum the whale who killed his trainer back on show". Daily Mail. March 30, 2011. Retrieved March 20, 2011. 
  27. ^ "SeaWorld Tilikum sick". Orlando Sentinel. December 22, 2011. Retrieved December 22, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Tommy Lee Explodes Over Whale Sperm". TMZ. December 7, 2010. 
  29. ^ Gina Serpe (December 8, 2010). "Tommy Lee Is Against Whale Masturbation. Who Isn't?". eonline.com (E! News). 

External links