Media Release: “Blackfish” Orca Tilikum Dies at SeaWorld

Media Release: “Blackfish” Orca Tilikum Dies at SeaWorld

"Blackfish" Orca Tilikum Dies at SeaWorld, #1 Worst Tank for Dolphins & Whales in 2016


CONTACT: Toni Frohoff, Ph.D.,, (805) 836-0496




Orlando, FL (January 6, 2017) – International animal protection organization, In Defense of Animals, is deeply saddened that Tilikum, the orca whose tragic tale is featured in the film, “Blackfish”, has died this morning at the age of 36. In Defense of Animals solely shames SeaWorld for forcing Tilikum to languish for 25 years in a barren concrete tank before his death, after almost a year of suffering with a serious lung infection which he may have finally succumbed to. He was captured from his wild family when he was just two years old in 1983 and his tormented life caused a sea-change in public opinion on cetacean captivity.

Animal activists have been campaigning for years to free the tormented killer whale, affectionately called ‘Tilly’. Following his extremely traumatic early life, he was linked with several human deaths including that of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.

Cetacean Scientist for In Defense of Animals, Toni Frohoff, Ph.D., said, “This should mark the end of an archaic era of keeping these incredible animals in captivity. To orcas, freedom and family comes first, and SeaWorld stole that from Tilikum and so many other orcas, whales, and dolphins. Seaworld deprived Tilikum from the life he was adapted to live for millions of years in the wild”.

SeaWorld refers to estimated 36 year-old Tilikum as “older” even though just this month, Granny, the worlds’ oldest orca in the wild, died at over 100 years of age.

Last year, SeaWorld was shamed as the #1 worst tank on In Defense of Animals list of the 10 Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales in North America. As a self-appointed “industry leader, SeaWorld had the opportunity to give Tilikum’s tragic life a happy ending, yet obstinately declared that they would never send Tilikum and the other orcas at SeaWorld to a seaside sanctuary.

“We call for all remaining animals to be released to a seaside sanctuary as soon as possible”, said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “Please help protect dolphins and whales in the wild where they belong, by pledging to never visit facilities that imprison them.”

Despite claims of having “the highest-quality care based on the latest advances in marine veterinary medicine”, a disturbing number of cetaceans are dying at SeaWorld, decades earlier than their natural life expectancy. Six young cetaceans died prematurely at SeaWorld facilities in 2015; teenage orca Unna, two baby beluga whales, and three young dolphins. Tilikum, the tormented orca featured in revolutionary film Blackfish, has been ailing and has passed away today January 6, 2017.

Following a ruling from the California Coastal Commission that restricted the company’s ability to breed orcas in San Diego, SeaWorld announced it would end its orca breeding and performances. However, it ruled out rehoming the remaining 22 orcas in its concrete prisons with an impudent declaration that the animals would never see or feel the natural seawater of a seaside sanctuary where they could retire in peace.

In Defense of Animals’ Ten Worst Tanks List 2016 exposes and represents the misery and suffering of some of the oceans’ most intelligent and complex mammals in captivity. Whales and dolphins are subject to astonishing rates of premature death, captivity-related injuries, forced removal of babies from mothers, and solitary isolation. Many are confined to swimming endless circles in cramped tanks, deprived of healthy social groups, and forced to endure invasive reproduction techniques, polluted water, dangerous transport, and brutal exploitation of their sociable natures through "swim" and "petting" programs. The list was selected from over 60 facilities from southern Canada to Mexico where almost 1,000 whales and dolphins are held captive for public display.



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To view the 10 Worst Tanks list please visit:


The Ten Worst Tanks list was produced over the past year by multiple cetacean experts and scientists to represent the myriad horrors faced by cetaceans in captivity. Facilities were examined and investigated in-person; through review of government records, veterinary records, and death reports; and via image and data documentation.

In Defense of Animals also produces the respected Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants List, now in its twelfth year:



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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization located in San Rafael, Calif. dedicated to protecting animals’ rights, welfare, and habitats through education, outreach, and our hands-on rescue facilities in India, Africa, and rural Mississippi.

IN DEFENSE OF ANIMALS • 3010 KERNER BLVD. • SAN RAFAEL, CA 94901 • 415-448-0048

10 Worst Tanks