In a statement, SeaWorld described Tilikum's legacy as that of an ambassador animal at the entertainment park. "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," the park wrote.
But for those who worked with Tilikum - and later spoke out against his treatment - his legacy has a bittersweet turn. The news sparked an outpouring of emotion among former trainers and members of the "Blackfish" cast, many of whom mourned the years of challenges he faced while also celebrating what he left behind.
"We will each remember Tilikum in our own special way," Kimberly Ventre, the sister of "Blackfish" trainer Jeffrey Ventre, told The Dodo. "For me, Tilikum profoundly changed my life from afar. Along with millions of others, his story inspired me to speak up about how we treat our planet and all of its diverse inhabitants. That is his legacy."
Samantha Berg, a former SeaWorld trainer and one of the stars of "Blackfish," first met Tilikum the day he arrived at SeaWorld Orlando in 1992.
"Although he already had a 'reputation' due to his involvement in Keltie Byrne's death ... he never struck me as an insane or vicious animal," she said.
"I wasn't privy to Tili's history," said Berg, who's currently a member of Voice of the Orcas. "I didn't know that he was taken from his mother in Iceland at 2 years old and left alone with no other orca companions for over a year. I didn't know that at Sealand he was forced to spend over 12 hours per day (sometimes more!) in the equivalent of a reinforced steel box with with two other female animals who would mercilessly attack him for no other reason than he was the subdominant animal in the group."