The Life and Care Of Tilikum At SeaWorld

Feb. 3, 2017 Update

Thank you to all of Tilikum’s fans who have expressed their support for the SeaWorld family over the last few weeks, as well as the memories you have shared with us. Tilikum had a tremendous and positive impact on millions of people, and the outpouring of support has been inspirational to watch.

As fans, we wanted you to be some of the first to receive the update following the necropsy that was performed:

The necropsy performed following Tilikum’s death confirmed his cause of death as bacterial pneumonia, consistent with his diagnosis and treatment. We have reported this information to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the Marine Mammal Inventory.

“While we are still saddened by the loss, the post-mortem information is consistent with the diagnosis and treatment we were providing,” said Dr. Hendrik Nollens, Vice President of Animal Health for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

Tilikum’s tissues have been shared to contribute to more than a dozen research studies that further scientific understanding of the species, and the results of those studies will be presented and published once they are completed.
We learn from every necropsy that is conducted. As with every case, it helps increase the knowledge and understanding of the kinds of bacteria that impact these animals. Bacterial pneumonia is commonly found in whales and dolphins in the wild as well as zoos, and this helps us determine the best way to intervene when they become problematic.

As Tilikum was an older killer whale, this gives us an opportunity to understand what kinds of health issues affect older dolphins and whales so that we can take better care of the animals in our care, and better evaluate and manage stranded animals that need rescue and rehabilitation.

Thank you again for your continued support of SeaWorld, our veterinarians, animal care staff and team members, and for the work we do to protect animals and habitats across the globe. 


January 6, 2017

The SeaWorld family is deeply saddened to announce that one of its most well-known orcas, Tilikum, has passed away. Tilikum passed away early this morning, January 6, surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians that provided him around-the-clock world-class care.

Like all older animals, Tilikum had faced some very serious health issues. While the official cause of death will not be determined until the necropsy is completed, the SeaWorld veterinarians were treating a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection. The suspected bacteria is part of a group of bacteria that is found in water and soil both in wild habitats and zoological settings. 

Tilikum’s veterinarians and caretakers delivered various treatment regimens over the course of this illness, which consisted of, among other things, combinations of anti-inflammatories, anti-bacterials, anti-nausea medications, hydration therapy and aerosolized antimicrobial therapy. 

While today is a difficult day for the SeaWorld family, it’s important to remember that Tilikum lived a long and enriching life while at SeaWorld and inspired millions of people to care about this amazing species.

Tilikum’s life will always be inextricably connected with the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Dawn Brancheau.  While we all experienced profound sadness about that loss, we continued to offer Tilikum the best care possible, each and every day, from the country’s leading experts in marine mammals.

“Tilikum had, and will continue to have, a special place in the hearts of the SeaWorld family, as well as the millions of people all over the world that he inspired,” said President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”

Tilikum became a part of SeaWorld’s family 25 years ago. Estimated to be about 36 years old, Tilikum was near the high end of the average life expectancy for male killer whales according to an independent scientific review.

Tilikum was not born at or collected by SeaWorld. He came to us from Sealand of the Pacific in Canada. SeaWorld has not collected a whale from the wild in nearly 40 years, and this past March we announced the end of the orca breeding program effectively making the whales currently at SeaWorld the last generation of orcas under human care.

You can learn more about SeaWorld’s Tilikum’s life and how killer whales will continue to inspire guests at SeaWorld clicking on the following links:

Click the links below to learn more about Tilikum's care at SeaWorld:

Here’s What Tilikum Has Been Up To These Days (August 31, 2016)

Checking in on TIlikum's Progress (June 29, 2016)

The Latest Update on Tilikum (May 20, 2016)

News Update: Tilikum’s Health and Care (April 18, 2016)

Caring for Tilikum the Killer Whale (March 19, 2016)

Here's a look at SeaWorld's killer whale care:

 Here are the answers to just some of the questions you may have about Tilikum:

What happened to Tilikum?
We’re saddened to say that Tilikum faced some very serious and chronic health issues that he was not able to recover from. 

When you first announced Tilikum’s illness, what did you say/think it was?
We reported at the beginning that it was a bacterial lung infection, which is now confirmed to be the cause of death.

How old was Tilikum?
Tilikum was estimated to be about 36 years old, which, according to independent studies, is slightly  older than wild male killer whales live in the region where he originated and similar to males from other locations.

How many killer whales does SeaWorld care for now?
With the loss of Tilikum, SeaWorld now cares for 22 orcas at its three facilities in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego.

Was Tilikum born at SeaWorld?
Tilikum was not born at or collected by SeaWorld. He came to SeaWorld in 1991 from Sealand of the Pacific in Canada. SeaWorld has not collected a whale from the wild in nearly 40 years.

Will the killer whale shows stop?
The One Ocean show at SeaWorld Orlando will continue as scheduled.  SeaWorld announced in March 2016 that it was introducing new and inspiring orca encounters. Learn more by visiting

How are the other whales responding?
The rest of the whale group is doing well and are behaving normally. It is not uncommon for the animals to continue to behave normally after a group member leaves the pod.

Is SeaWorld going to release the results of the necropsy?
SeaWorld follows all federal regulations and reports all deaths as required by law, and all records are regularly reviewed by the USDA. We are releasing his cause of death. Additionally, samples collected will contribute to several research studies that help scientists better understand this species. The results of those studies will be shared with the scientific community through presentations and publications once they are completed.
What research will Tilikum contribute to?
Samples collected from Tilikum’s necropsy will contribute to more than 12 research projects, which will help scientists, researchers and conservationists better understand this species. These studies will look at determining killer whale nutritional condition to better evaluate animals in the wild, various anatomical studies on the eye, the bones, and the brain of dolphins and whales, toxin studies related to partitioning toxins in blubber and to serve as a control for toxin studies, studies in metabolism and diving, and general studies in microbiology. The results of those studies will be presented and published once they are completed.
Do any of the other whales have the same condition as Tilikum did?
None of the other whales in our collection have the same infection. As part of our preventative medical program, we check the overall health of the whales on a regular basis, and these exams are able to detect pneumonia.