'Blackfish' Director Responds to News That Whale Featured in Doc Is Dying: "A Profoundly Tragic Story"

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

"Tilikum lived a miserable life," says Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has responded to news that the killer whale depicted in her documentary may be dying.

"This is a profoundly tragic story in every way," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "Tilikum lived a miserable life. His victims' families have suffered unimaginable pain."

SeaWorld officials acknowledged Tuesday that the orca responsible for the death of a trainer and two others is very sick. The amusement park posted on its website that Tilikum's condition is "beginning to deteriorate" due to an incurable bacterial infection in his lungs.

"Despite the best care available, like all aging animals, he battles chronic health issues that are taking a greater toll as he ages," SeaWorld said of the 35-year-old mammal that was captured off the coast of Iceland.

Tilikum has been at SeaWorld for 23 years.

"He killed Dawn Brancheau, Daniel Dukes and Keltie Byrne, and he has continued to live for years in similar conditions to the one that allowed for these tragedies to transpire," Cowperthwaite added. "Why? Because when he breaches, he splashes audiences really well. This is one of those stories that really has no upside."

Blackfish, which was a breakout documentary hit for Magnolia Pictures and later found a larger audience when it aired on CNN, sparked criticism of SeaWorld by animal rights' activists and led to boycotts. The film was a Grand Jury Prize nominee at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and BAFTA best documentary nominee in 2014.