Blackfish Director Dismayed Over News that Orca Tilikum is Dying

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SeaWorld officials announced Tuesday that Tilikum, the killer whale who was chronicled in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, is deteriorating in health due to a bacterial infection in his lungs.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite—who directed Blackfish, which explores the implications of keeping killer whales in captivity—responded to the news in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter: “This is a profoundly tragic story in every way. Tilikum lived a miserable life.”

Tilikum has been at SeaWorld for 23 years and he is estimated to be 35 years old. SeaWorld maintains that their whales’ lifespans are equivalent to those of whales in the wild.

“He killed Dawn Brancheau, Daniel Dukes and Keltie Byrne, and he has continued to live for years in similar conditions to the one that allowed for these tragedies to transpire,” Cowperthwaite said. “Why? Because when he breaches, he splashes audiences really well. This is one of those stories that really has no upside.”