Tourists in Florida watched in horror as a five-tonne killer whale surged out of the water and grabbed its trainer during a performance, thrashing her around and holding her under until she was dead.
Paramedics at the theme park in Orlando were unable to revive Dawn Brancheau, 40, one of SeaWorld’s most experienced trainers, after yesterday’s incident.
It is the third human death to which Tillikum, the largest Orca whale in captivity, has been linked.
Eleven years ago a man – Daniel Dukes – who had apparently climbed into his tank for an unauthorised out of hours swim was found lying naked and dead on Tillikum’s back and 20 years ago the whale was implicated in the death of another trainer in Canada.
Spectators say that Ms Brancheau had just finished describing the performance the audience was about to watch and was rubbing the whale’s head when it grabbed her and pulled her in.
Victoria Biniak told a local TV station that Tillikum, nicknamed Telly, “took off really fast in the tank and he came back, shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started thrashing her around”.
“He was thrashing her around pretty good; it was violent,” said Ms Biniak.
Her husband Gary added: “He dragged her underneath the water and wouldn’t let her come up. The force by which the woman was pulled into the water… her shoes were pulled off, it was terrible.
“Generally they don’t allow any of the trainers to swim with this particular whale because he’s so large and has a different temperament.”
An alarm sounded and staff evacuated the audience out of the stadium as workers scrambled around with nets. SeaWorld has been closed to the public while the park carries out an investigation.
Eldon Skaggs, another audience member, said he heard that during an earlier show Tillikum was not responding to directions. Others who attended the earlier show said the whale was behaving like an “ornery child”.
The park’s general manager, Dan Brown, called Ms Brancheau “one of our most experienced animal trainers”, saying she had “drowned in an incident with one of our killer whales”.
Filed Under: Animal & Plant Life