On January 6, 2017 Tilikum known as Tilly, died at the age of 35. To most people, that seems to young to die, and for the powerful Orca it really was.
Most people know him from Blackfish the documentary that began the movement to stop using Orcas for entertainment. He became the face of the movement for freeing the animals from captivity.
Captured off the coast of Iceland when he was just a calf, Tilly only experienced the wide open ocean briefly before being confined to captivity.
Tilikum was one of the most abused animals by Sea World, he sired more than half of the Orcas born in captivity (21 to be exact) and he was often left alone due to his various incidents with trainers. One of those incidents lead to the preventable death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, when he became frustrated and pulled her into the water.
Tilikum was a reminder that these animals have feelings, activists and animal rights organizations often cited his behavior as an indicator of the damage captivity can do to an Orca. He was often characterized as being lonely and it was speculated he experienced a psychosis due to swimming in the small tank.
The incident with Dawn Brancheau was not the first, she was actually the third death related to Tilikum.
Tilikum spent most of his life being passed around to various sea parks, beginning with Sea Land of the Pacific. After it closed he was sold to Sea World and used as the main sperm provider for their Orca breeding program. He was characterized for his large size and collapsed dorsal fin, which Sea World claimed was normal despite being disproven by sightings of Orcas who lived in the wild as a clear sign of depression.
Activists mourned his death today, but took comfort in knowing he isn't suffering anymore. Tilly suffered from various health problems and deteriorating health for well over a year before his death.
Hopefully he will be a reminder of what happens when we have animals in captivity, with Sea World officially retiring it's Orca shows and ceasing it's breeding program we are moving toward a future where animals are not used for entertainment.