Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Killer Whale Kills Trainer at SeaWorld

A SeaWorld Orlando employee died after being attacked by a killer whale this afternoon.

Officials said the veteran trainer, 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau (pictured above with a whale at the water park), was in the whale holding area behind the Shamu Stadium when she slipped, fell into the tank, was pulled under water by the whale and drowned at about 2pm.

At the time of the attack, more than 40 tourists watched in horror.

A Brazilian couple said they watched the whale show at the park two days earlier and came back to take pictures. But this afternoon the whales appeared agitated before the incident occurred.

"It was terrible. It's very difficult to see the image," the man tells the Orlando Sentinel.

Dawn was bleeding from the face or mouth, they said, and the whale turned her over and over as it swam.

Other witnesses said that a female trainer was petting a whale when it grabbed her and plunged back into the water. The whale reappeared on the other side of the tank with the woman.

Within minutes, an alarm in the viewing area sounded and security personnel arrived to escort tourists out.

The Sentinel is also reporting that the whale, named Tillikum, has been involved in two deadly attacks in the past. The first in 1991, when it was deemed responsible for the drowning death of one of its trainers at Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia. The whale was involved in a second incident when authorities discovered the body of a naked man lying across his back in July 1999. Authorities concluded that the man probably died from hypothermia and that Tillikum had bit the man and tore off his swimming trunks, likely believing he was a toy to play with. But what's even more troubling is that a former SeaWorld contractor said the whale in question is typically kept isolated from SeaWorld's other killer whales and that trainers were not allowed to get in the water with him because of his violent history.

Orange County Sheriff's Office and SeaWorld officials said the death appears to have been an accident and the investigation is ongoing.

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