Published: February 25, 2010 at 8:06 AM
Yes, it does now appear as if Tilli did pull Dawn into the water, not a "slip and fall" as was previously being reported by Sea World. It's difficult in these situations to get the facts straight, and I don't fault SW for misinforming under the circumstances.
I do feel it necessary to point out one very major misconception that people seem to have about this "attack." Tilli has been in trouble before simply because he does not understand his own strength. He was not "attacking" Dawn because he was angry, or frustrated at being held in captivity, or hungry or abused, or any of the other reasons being bantered about. Tilli was playing. This is how orcas and whales play with one another in the wild. They nip at each other, bite, roll, and push each other under the water. That's why the trainers don't swim with him. He forgets that humans can't do those behaviors and survive (or he never learned that). Sea World felt that it was safe for the trainers to interact with him, as long as they stayed out of the water. It appears as if in interacting with him this time, Tilli decided that he wanted Dawn to play more aggressively and pulled her in. It is common orca behavior to breach or even jump out of the water to claim their prey, and I suspect he just got too exhuberant and grabbed Dawn. I've seen up close how affectionate the orcas are with their trainers and how the trainers feel about the orcas, and I don't doubt that this was in fact a horrible accident, and not a vicious attack by a deranged animal.
Tilli will not be put down. He's not only a protected animal, but a valuable sire to most if not all of the current offspring, and in addition, Dawn wouldn't have wanted her friend destroyed. What will most likely happen is that he'll either be placed in a tank somewhere for viewing only, or be put under observation in another facility. He will probably miss the human interactions. Orcas, being of the dolphin family, do actually enjoy the interaction.