Tilikum, SeaWorld Killer Whale Featured in "Blackfish," Has Died

iStock/Thinkstock(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- Tilikum, one of SeaWorld's best-known orcas featured in the documentary Blackfish, has died, the theme park announced Friday.

The killer whale passed away early Friday morning "surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians that provided him around-the-clock world-class care," SeaWorld said in a statement on its website.

SeaWorld veterinarians had been treating the whale for "a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection," but the official cause of death will not be determined until a necropsy, an animal version of an autopsy, is performed, the theme park wrote.

Tikilum was estimated to be about 36 years old when he passed. He was "near the high end of the average life expectancy for male killer whales, according to an independent scientific review," SeaWorld said.

The orca first came to the park 25 years ago and has been connected to the deaths of three people at the park.

One of the most prominent deaths happened in 2010, when the 12,000-pound, 22-foot animal pulled SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau into the water and killed her.

The 2013 documentary Blackfish examined the tragedy and raised the question of whether killer whales should be held in captivity.

Seaworld acknowledged in its statement Friday that "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," the park said.

SeaWorld's president and CEO, Joel Manby, added that "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."

"My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family," Manby said.

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