Killer Whale attack at SeaWorld claims trainer
A SeaWorld killer whale attacked and killed a trainer after the Believe
show (popularly known as the "Shamu" show) at SeaWorld Orlando today, according to multiple reports coming into Theme Park Insider.
The trainer was interacting with one of the whales after the show when when the attack occurred. The area was immediately evacuated and Orange County authorities called to the scene.
Please post additional details in the comments, if you were on the scene.
Update: The trainer was Dawn Brancheau, and we join with our readers and theme park fans everywhere in sending our condolences to her family. SeaWorld has closed the Believe and Dine With Shamu shows at SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Diego, pending an investigation.
The whale, Tillikum, has been connected with two other deaths, including the drowning of a trainer at Sealand of the Pacific in Canada in 1991 and the drowning of a SeaWorld trespasser in 1999. None of the trainers ever went into the water with Tillikum, given both his size and history, but that safeguard apparently was not enough to protect Dawn today.
I think seaworld's unsavoury mistreatment of wild animals is the tragedy.
Say what you will about SeaWorld and the dangers of working with live animals, but having met with the trainers in the past, the one thing you cannot say about their animals is that they are starving. The animals are very well fed and their diets constantly monitored.
This is STUNNING!
Sad news, but they are still wild animals at the end of the day, really surprised it hasn't happened more in past.
This is a great tragedy, my thoughts to the family and friends of the trainer.
Wow! this is terrible and shocking. Killer Whales are just what their name describes and maybe Sea World may start considering just staying with dolphins and sea Lions. Didn't this happen in San Antonio not too long ago? Just imagine how it must have been in the stadium when the attack started. This is just sad news.
Unfortunately they're called Killer Whale for a reason! Such terrible news... My sympathies to her family and friends.
Shocking news, my thoughts go out to everyone at SeaWorld and most importantly to the family of the victim.
I'm curious to know how the attack took place. I haven't been to SWO for several years and have yet to see this incarnation of the Shamu show, but don't the trainers introduce the show from the show platform? Did the whale beach itself on the platform and claim the trainer? How terrorfying if that was the case. Not to sound morbid, but I would be curious in seeing any video as to how the events took place. I certainly would not want to go back into those waters if I was one of the remaining trainers in that show.
Orlando Sentinel has a good piece of info on the attack. This whale has been in trouble before
Marine biologist Naomi Rose, speaking on Orlando Channel 13 about the whale, this is the third time this whale has had a problem: "Put him in again, this is just going to happen again."
We have just got back from Seaworld, and we were at the 12:30 show. They stopped the show half way through as the "Whales were not playing ball", but we were totally unaware that this had happened.
People at the park were reporting to Channel 13's Amanda Evans that they knew something wasn't right, that the whales were acting strange and wouldn't do tricks like splashing the crowd.
I know it is the symbol of SeaWorld, but I think it is time to retire the Shamu show. Killer Whales were not meant to be confined to such a small area. There will inevitably be another problem in the future.
Let's make sure everyone is CLEAR about Naomi Rose's assertions. The whale did not ATTACK anyone previously (as if they were "prey". The whale was involved in a show where a trainer was taken underwater for a prolonged period resulting in drowning. The whale also happened to be around during the death of a man who had hid in the park and then, after closing, thought it was a good idea to swim in the killer whale tank. His cause of death was determined to be hypothermia and NOT due to an attack.
UPDATE: According to a brief press conference held at 4:35 p.m. Orlando time: at around 2 p.m. a 40-year-old female trainer who was in the whale holding area slipped and fell into the tank and was "fatally injured by the whale," according to Jim Solomons of the Orange County Sheriff's Office. Sea World spokesman Dan Brown called the trainer "One of our most experienced trainers."
The whale was a 12,300-pound orca.
I would really like to add that the whales were not acting violently during the show at all! All those people saying that you could sense something wrong is rubbish! The first we knew that the Whales were not cooperating was when the trainer presenting the show told us that part of the show was going to be dropped.
You got to love the media. The first reports where that Orca jumped out of the water to grab a trainer, and shook her violently. Now the police are saying she slipped and fell in. Yes these are wild animals, but the facts are there are zero, 0, documented attacks of Orcas on humans in the wild.
This incident is AMAZINGLY like the incident where this same whale killed the trainer at Sealand in Victoria BC, Canada. She drowned but had been thrown around like a toy. It was speculated that because her shirt was the same color as a toy ball the whales had the whale thought he WAS playing with the ball.
Channel 13 reporting that the other incidents with this particular whale include one on Feb. 21, 1991 at British Columbia, where a trainer was dragged, repeatedly submerged and drowned. The other was July 5, 1999, when a man hid inside after the park closed, then jumped into the pool with the whale and was killed.
My dad came home from work initially claiming "Shamu at someone today". Then he further explained that wasn't exactly the case, but that someone was killed and that's all he heard. I'll be interested to learn more about this, but it's definitely sad.
According to Sea World's website, Believe was only scheduled for 12:30 and 6:30, so it sounds like the most recent update checks out. This is consistent with yesterday's schedule, so it's doubtful they changed the website as a preemptive form of damage control.
There was only two shows today, I can confirm that.
There's zero evidence the man in 1999 was "killed" by a whale. The autopsy listed the cause of death as hypothermia.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that the name of the whale is Tillikum, nicknamed "Tilly."
Why did and how could this happen? It is so very sad someone had to die like this.
Was this whale directly involved in the '91 incident or did it happen to be in the tank at the time? '99 is a throw away, even if the whales killed the man, he had no place being in that tank with those enormous predatory animals. Two direct involvements in an incident is cause for concern, even if they are nearly 20 years apart.
Channel 13 just interviewed a woman who said she had seen the show, and that "there was nothing out of the ordinary during the performance" but that when watching the whales down by the glass windows in the back area after the show, she said she saw a trainer in the water, and the whale circling around and hitting the trainer hard in the solar plexis by the whale. When the witness realized this was not ordinary, she tried to get her children, and others, away from the window, and shortly later, Sea World workers were ushering everyone out. She said this was not in the main pool.
I live in San Diego and was there some years ago to see a trainer injured -- at that time our whale pushed him against a wall and held him there. We also lost a beautiful whale in our park in an accident where she broke her jaw leaving her fledging baby motherless. These incidents are very rare and always distressing. Sometimes the result is a change in training tactics (food levels etc.) and sometimes let's face it, the whales are just uncomfortable or downright cranky that day and there is nothing to be done. This trainer obviously loved her job and the whales or she would not have been there. It is sad but also a known risk when working with wild animals. I'm very sorry for her family and wish them comfort.
Back in '99, it was reported that the orca in question wasn't trained (i.e., Sea World picked him up for stud services). Did that ever change? If the orca wasn't used to trainers being in the water with him, that sounds like a recipe for disaster. It seems crazy to think that they wouldn't try to train him over the course of ten years, but maybe that just wasn't his purpose.
This is a terribly sad incident, and I agree with the majority of views on here. I however, dont like the fact people refer to Orcas as 'killer' whales as if the cold blooded killers, killer whales comes from killer of whales.
The '99 story makes more sense now when piecing this all together, especially after the account of todays attack happening in the backstage area. Clearly this whales social graces amongst humans has not been as cultured as it's peers have. It doesn't make what has happened any more acceptable, but it certainly sheds like on as to why this may have happened.
By the way, I wanted to thank my wife, Laurie, who's been posting the updates for me while I'm on the road. (She posted all the updates with my name above this one, and after the first response labeled from me in this thread - logged on as me, though.)
I was at Seaworld Orlando just last month and the show is remarkable - the animals are revered and treated with the utmost respect and care. Believe is a wonderful show that does a wonderful job portraying orcas as majestic animals that bond with people, but at the same time, they are highly social animials. During one show while i was there there was a delay in starting the show because the orcas were not ready to go on. They came out and told the crowd that they may have to delay the show unless the animals decided that they wanted to do the show. This is a most unfortunate incident. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the victim.
So was that last post Robert or is his wife now thanking herself?
I have to wonder if this was an "attack", as the media wants to label it, or if it was simply an accident. The whales are somewhat playful with the trainers, and yes occasionally agressive. Just speculating here, but if the trainer slipped and fell in, the the whale may have been "playing" with her roughly.
The name of the trainer was realased: Dawn Branshew (sorry for spelling). I am concerned because she might be a friend of a friend of my grandfather.
Grrrr! MSNBC is still reporting that the incident happened "in front of a horrified audience." Now back to curling...
Yes, sorry for the spelling, Dawn Brancheau is right! Thanks for the correction.
NBC Nightly News is stating the trainers name is Dawn Brancheau. Thoughts and prayers go out to those who know her, but also those who saw this happen.
FREE TILLY The people who think it is fun to watch a lonely imprisoned animal do tricks are to blame, not Tilly.
Last I had heard, the incident did happen in front of an audience, just not the Believe audience. The trainer was speaking to a group in a "lunch with Shamu" dining experience which is held at the small observation pool off of the main auditorium area. She lost her balance and fell off the rocky area where she was standing (and where the trainers typically stand when doing training with the whales in that pool) and Tilli was "playing" with her. This same whale has not been socialized with humans - none of the trainers swim with him for just this purpose. He has caused accidents before, once in BC when he played with a trainer too hard and killed her, and again with the crazy guy who thought he'd swim with Shamu and was found dead in the pool the next day. The reason no one swims with this particular whale is because he was not trained from birth to swim with humans. He doesn't know his own strength, or the limitations of human swimmers. The other whales in the show begin their training at an early age; trainers are in the water with them from the time they're born, and they have much better understanding of what they can and can not do when swimming with our species. Tilli did not.
Sorry, Diane - what I mean is they (the media) show a nice wide shot of Shamu Stadium - it's presented as if it happened in front of a full stadium.
Horrible news. =(
Very unfortunate indeed. My personal Prayers, and Condolences to her family, friends, and fellow co-workers at SeaWorld Orlando...
Greetings everyone, Robert is back to himself and so am I!
It was the friend of the family which I feared (actually my grandfather's friend's daughter), but I really didn't know her. Its really sad and was big news here in Chicago.
I'm very sad to hear about that trainer; my heart goes out to her family.
I am wondering what will happen to Tilly,the whale. After being involved with so many incidents is it time for them to say that she is not able to perform anymore and euthanize her ( I hope not!) or will a trusted trainer work with her to help her become less violent? Fingers crossed for option 2!
Very sad news….
As tragic as it may be, and I do say this with great honesty and sympathy, I am truly sad for the trainers family; however, this is a 12,000 pound WILD animal. Wild animals have a mind of their own and I think that that is overlooked way too much. The whales may be fed and taken care of properly but that doesn't ensure their overall happiness. A whale was NEVER meant to be captivated, as with many animals that humans have manipulated into domestication. If Tilikum has killed before, why the heck wasn't he released after the first incident??? Do people not think about anything?
People should have quit when they were ahead. Dogs should have been the last to be domesticated. It's no surprise this has happened, what's surprising is that it hasnt happened more often. Not every animal God put on the Earth is intended to be in captivity. The world is getting ridiculous.
Seaworld confirmed that the trainer was pulled in to the water, not slipped as the police reported, and also confirmed that he (Yes, he, not she) will not be "Put down".
As someone who worked for Seaworld in the past and had the pleasure to meet the trainer in question, Dawn, this is sad news. Dawn was one of the cool trainers who didn't look down at the operations employees and would happily talk to us.
Thoughts and prayers to the family and friends.
It is unfortunate that a trainer at Sea World past away. However, can we all try to remember that trained or not Orcas are wild animals! They are not meant to be kept in captivity! I do understand trying to save an animal from an injury. And I have seen the show in Orlando. Being that Orcas are my favorite animals, I did enjoy the show. But not one second went by where I didn't wonder how these beautiful animals would feel if they were not kept in aquariums. Also, let's remember how big and powerful these animals are. So, are we really shocked that someone was killed?
My condolences to the family of the deceased.
You can tell the media has really picked up on this. I am currently in VA and saw it on the news twice last night. It is very sad and I feel for the person's family and the other trainers who now have to decide how to go forward. I doubt the whale set out to kill..... Whales don't usually come across as vicious like a crocodile or something..... but I was not there and am kind of glad as that would have been a depressing day at the park. I am curious as to what the other trainers take on this story is. Remember when the tiger got one of the guys (I forget their names.... ) and he defended the tiger after it attacked him? Obviously whether to be mad at the whale or not we all would be sad for the loss of someone's life though.
Rob P said it best for me. Anthony, I pray that your grandfather can help this family during this horrible time. Truly a sad and scary situation.
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.
The Whale should be taken back to Sea.......I hate the thought of it because of the way man kills these wonderful creatures, but being cooped up in a tank is not acceptable either ............let it go , let it be free.
It would be a terrible loss if they put the animal down. But clearly, he won't be doing anymore shows.
My only experience with Sea World is when I took my niece there a few years ago, and the Shamu show didn't go well. The orca kept going back into her holding pen and just didn't feel like cooperating, so they eventually stopped the show and sent everyone packing. All I could feel was sad. These are living creatures with minds of their own and they shouldn't be made to "perform tricks" for our amusement multiple times a day. I'm just not an advocate for live animal entertainment. I do beleive they should be protected in the wild, but they don't understand the concept of working a 40 hour week for the benefit of food and lodging like we do. We can't just say, "They've got it better at Sea World than having to try to survive in the open sea." They don't think that way. I'm very sorry for the trainer and her family.
My office is about two blocks away from Sea World. There are (at least) a half-dozen news trucks around the park and four helicopters hovering overhead.
I don't think we should rule out the notion that Tilly wasn't having an "Of Mice and Men" moment. These animals are very intelligent, and have highly evolved brains. The notion that all Orcas in captivity are noble beings who happily go about there lives and want to play all the time with their trainers would be naive to say the least. I agree that this was a terrible accident, however, Tilly does have an established history of being involved with the deaths of humans he has come into contact with when in the same waters. These creatures are extremely social and are capable of emoting a broad range behavioral related displays. With all due respect to the victim, her family and friends, and people who are sensitive to this topic, my goal here is not to be provocative. Still, there seems to be no recorded instance of Orca to Human related death in the wild where these guys are Apex predators, yet in a controlled enviroment where they are trained and have relationships with humans, there have been 20 or so attacks resulting in various outcomes. I don't find it that much of a stretch to think that playtime wasn't the only motivation.
Mr. Beaks uses the phrase: " ... there have been 20 or so attacks...”
In fact, both prior incidents with Tilli have pretty much been chalked up to "playful" behavior or lack of realization of the fraility of his human "plaything." In the first instance, there was speculation that the trainer who fell into the water was wearing clothing that was the same color and texture as a ball that he played with and he thought the trainer was just another plaything. In the second, the man who snuck into his tank was trying to swim with him and it was pretty commonly believed that he was trying to ride Tilli. It is speculated that Tilli's reaction was to play with the strange man in his pool, and in fact the cause of death was hyperthermia not drowning/blood loss, etc. It was pretty commonly thought that the guy died and then Tilli began to toss him around since he was no longer moving.
For the benefit of the family, why are you all speculating ? Dawn was doing what she loved. The news media in this country is a horrible waste and an injustice to society. Don't stoop to there level. The animals are treated very well and wouldn't survive in the wild. Tilli was not for show but was a breeding male. Sea world is a great place and there employees are of the best. Leave this to the experts. The family Loved Dawn beyond compare and feel blessed and happy that she got to do what she loved!
I concede that "attack" may be too strong a word. I will ammend that to "20 or so incidents, resulting in various outcomes". I also realize that constant interaction will eventually lead to these types of "incidents". Let me clarifiy that I am not against Sea World and their practices. I happen to think they do a fine job with all of their animals in whatever capacity they are featured through out the parks. I'm sure not all past Orca/Human incidents were perpetrated with the intent to harm. It does warrant examination when an animal has a recurring presence
I met Dawn after a previous "Believe" show. She told us how much she loved the animals. And how much she loved her job. To think a person can die doing what they love is more than can ever be asked for. But Dawn got the pleasure.
Latest update from Orlando Sentinel states that Dawn was pulled in by her long ponytail. I wonder if they'll make trainers cut their hair now?
A family at the Dine with Shamu experience took video, which WESH News obtained. THe video is about 5 minutes long and shows Dawn's interaction before the fateful event.
Does anyone else, other than myself, believe that this tragedy could result in Blackwell implementing Merlin Entertainment's published policy ending the use of animals as performers at the Sea World parks?
This would definitely qualify as an event that would fan those flames if Merlin/Blackwell did decide to implement that policy. However, these show's are Sea Worlds bread and butter. The exhibits are top notch, and the handful of rides offered are of high quality, but Shamu is synonymous with the Sea World brand and a major attraction at the parks. I think ultimately safety policies will become more stringent to better protect the trainers as well as the animals, but the shows will continue to go on.
This is one of those sobering tragedies. People forget that while these whales are trained and "tame" for lack of a better word, they are still 6 tons. We are so used to seeing whales as performers, that we forget that they are still animals. To question the "motives of the whale", as some critics and experts are trying to do now, is an exercise in futility. They are smart and mostly benign creatures when trained, but even the most kind and gentle of animals have their moments, and when said animal is a 6 ton whale, there could be a problem when humans are involved. The bottom line is that when you get in the pool with a 12,000 pound killer whale, you are putting your life into the whale's hands. You are trusting that animal to do as it's been trained to do, and 99.999999% of the time they do it. If they don't, then there's not much you can do.
DO you people realize that these animals only get exercise by swimming during the shows? they are meant to swim thousands of miles a day hunting. If they close the shows, no money to pay the so called trainers and then who exercises the whales. Blackstone is not interested in the whales safety. only public image to protect its dirty secrets. The secret? Artificial insemination. Tillikum is the fist whale they have successfully masturbated into submission, they use an electric probe stimulation and hold condom to collect sperm and sell it... Tillikum is being raped over and over again for money. Tillikum is a playful creature like the others. Trainers cannot teach the whale about human fragitlity and the lung capacity of people. These whales see these people swimming around them and playing with them...they dont know the difference between grabbing someone byt the waist and swimming around with her ...and the times when they are swimming around with her....not all mammal/animals have the same control. he was so gentle with his enormous teeth...she had no mjor lacerations and there wasnt a pool of blood. he is an enornomous gentle giant who wants to come out of his jail cell and play and swim and get some exercise...this is the saddest story i think i have ever learned and my heart is broken but i am still safely tucked in my home..tiliikum has to earn his food by being raped and exploited for his semen. you know they say to never get on ground level with a dog it blurrs the boundaries of whats play and whats not...getting in a pool with an orca is not any different the orca are learning boundaries but one mistake can lead to a tragedy do to the difference in size of the play toys at hand. They take chances everytime they believe that a whale is under their control, and the whale is forced like a kidnap vicitim to befriend its rapist for food. to do a trick for some dead herring after a lap around the puddle. this is sick.
Are you serious? Posting this on a theme park fan board is not going to get you many on your side.
You might might have some valid points on the "not trying to hurt her" part, but I'll stop there and TH respond to this one as he is much better at this than I would be lol...
Wow, and I thought I was being the wack job in this comment discussion. I would love to see any documentation to back up the rediculous claims that Sea World is able to mount a trash bag size condom onto a 1200lb Killer Whale, and then stimulate it, so as to collect it's sperm for further breeding and scientific research. Usually I spell check before posting, perhaps you should do a sanity check. I agree, that these huge animals are not meant to be held in the postage sized tanks they make their homes in, and after reviewing the video of the trainer just moments prior to the incident, I can accept the notion that Tilly may have been playing too rough. But what other agenda are you trying to accomplish here? Why haven't any of the trainers come forward about this alledged Orca rape scandal. Are they all in on the take, or does SWO have a special unit that comes in after hours to wine and dine 6 tons of baby making magic out of Tilly?
You know, it's honestly making me ill to read this thread anymore. So I'll make this my last comment, people are taking a death and using it to point fingers and yell from rooftops about freeing animals that wouldn't know how to survive in the wild or have very little chance. These animals are used to people and have become dependent, you need to consider that while your yelling. I'm sorry to say it but if this kind of accident had happened anyplace else but at a theme park with a national name, it wouldn't have been giving national media news attention it's gotten.
Phil I'm sorry I still can't help laughing reading yours.. I applied to work at S.W YEARS AGO, but I really don't remember a job opening for "whale condom holder"? Asof the size of the tank, true it's not the ocean, but I remember when they were over in the Blue Horizon tank, so they have gotten a hugh up grade in space, still maybe not as much as many would hope these animals would have. But as pointed out time (AND TIME) again those whales have it made, I want to come back as a S.W. whale, or maybe a Peabody Duck.
Okay i first read about the rape this morning and now ive finally decided to post. This has to be someone from PETA. I would like to know how you rape a 12000 lbs whale. 4 or 5 people that weigh maybe a total of 800 lbs will not be able to rape a 12000 lbs whale. Now lets look at some facts here about SW and the whales they keep. Out of 21 whales that they have only 5 are from the wild. Out of those 5 i believe at least 3 came from other parks. SW no longer captures there whales. They all have been born and raised in the parks. The ones that were from the wild came to sw when other theme parks went belly up.
Well said Brian!!!
Nuke the whales.
Else why have nukes, eh, Josh?
Thank You. I promise you this i will keeping getting a season pass for My wife, Daughter, Niece and Nephew and myself. Also i promise you none of the peta pukes or animal rights pukes that have written in here will write to me because there to scared to have a conversation with someone that will out wit them.
I totally agree with Carrie and Brian ! A lot fo these post are crazy. What planet did this PETA group come from ?
The latest on this incident was that the trainer made a tragic mistake. She was almost lying down in the pool so that her pony tail was in the water. The whale unfortunatly thought her pony tail was a toy, and pulled on it, yanking her into the water. Then he thought he was playing a game with her in the water.
One thing to add today. I beleive its Merlin who doesnt want animal shows or be a part of it. They are not partnered with Blackstone in the Sea World parks. I may be wrong. Robert can add to that.
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.