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On Friday 6th January, aged just 35 years old, the Orca Tilikum passed away from a bacterial infection caused by his captivity. In the wild Tilikum could have easily lived to 70 plus years old – a much loved wild Orca known as Granny recently died aged 105.

Tilikum was an Orca (sometimes known as Killer Whales) who was captured in Iceland in 1983 at Hafnarfjörður, near Reykjavík. He was stolen from his family unit (known as a pod) at just 2 years old. In the wild most Orcas will stay with or very near their family pod for life. After a year he was transferred to Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia, he was then transferred in 1992 to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida.

The effects of being held in a tiny barren concrete tank took its toll on Tilikum and he was involved in the death of three people; the first a trainer at the now closed Sealand of the Pacific, the second a man who was trespassing in Tilikum’s enclosure at SeaWorld Orlando, and the third and most well known Dawn Brancheau, a senior SeaWorld Orlando trainer in 2010.

In 2013 Tilikum was featured in the documentary Blackfish which helped enormously to educate the public about the suffering of Orcas in captivity .

Tilikum was a big Orca, the largest Orca in captivity, and he was used by SeaWorld to sire calves by being forcibly masturbated. He sired 21 calves, of whom eleven are (currently) still alive. At 22.5 feet (6.9m) long, he weighed around about 12,500 pounds (5,700kg). His pectoral fins were 7 feet (2.1m) long, his 6.5 foot tall (2.0m) dorsal fin was collapsed completely to his left side due to the effects of captivity.

Despite worldwide condemnation and repeated calls for SeaWorld to release the Orcas into an ocean sanctuary, they refuse to grant their captives freedom and continue to spout utter rubbish about caring for their welfare.

SeaWorld must now put a plan into action to release its remaining captives, including Tilikum’s offspring, the other Orcas, Dolphins, Beluga whales, Sea Lions, Penguins and Walruses – who all suffer in this artificial environment with its concrete enclosures, screaming crowds and loud music.

It’s too late for Tilikum but let his legacy be the freedom of his fellow inmates.

Swim freely and in peace now Tilikum, November 1981 – 6 January 2017.

Image source: Getty Images