Tilikum, the 12,000-pound orca whose captivity at SeaWorld (and other various sea parks) was scrutinized in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, is suffering from a chronic bacterial infection in his lungs that’s become increasingly harder to treat, according to SeaWorld veterinarians.
In a video posted to the SeaWorld blog, vet Scott Gearhart says Tilikum “receives a number of medications on a daily basis” for his respiratory illness. Gearhart—a diligent SeaWorld spokesman—adds, “If Tilikum would have shown up with this disease in the wild, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have been gone a long time ago.”
“He’s getting older,” says Kelly Flaherty Clark, SeaWorld’s director of animal training. “What I know is that every day that I’m here and every day these amazing veterinarians are here, he will receive the best care.”
Gearhart, getting teary, has a grim prognosis, stating, “I wish I could say I was tremendously optimistic about Tilikum”—a little late for that, my dude—“and his future, but he has a disease which is chronic and progressive and at some point might cause his death.”
In 2010, Tilikum—who’s been at SeaWorld for 23 years—killed trainer Dawn Brancheau during a training session by grabbing her by the arm and drowning her. Previously, another one of Tilikum’s trainers was killed in a similar method at Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia. In 1999, a man who snuck into SeaWorld after hours was found dead in Tilikum’s tank. The deaths—and the many complications that arise when orcas are kept in captivity—are explored in Blackfish.
Let’s hope Tilikum lives out his remaining days as peaceful and happy as possible.
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Image via Getty.