Trainer killed by whale at SeaWorld Orlando identified as 40-year-old park veteranBy Mike Schneider, AP
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Trainer killed by whale was park veteran
ORLANDO, Fla. — An official says 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau is the trainer killed by a whale at SeaWorld in Orlando.
The law enforcement official with knowledge of the incident spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not been cleared to officially release her identity.
According to a 2006 Orlando Sentinel profile, Brancheau had worked her way into a leadership role at Shamu Stadium after spending more than a decade working with killer whales.
She was inspired by a trip to SeaWorld when she was 9.
Park president Dan Brown would say only that the trainer killed was one of the park’s most experienced. She was killed when she slipped or fell into the whale’s tank Wednesday afternoon.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A killer whale drowned a trainer in front of a horrified audience Wednesday at a SeaWorld show, with at least one witness saying the animal leaped from the water, dragged the woman under and thrashed her around violently.
Distraught audience members were hustled out of the stadium, and the park was immediately closed.
The 40-year-old veteran trainer was one of the park’s most experienced. It was not clear exactly how she died.
An audience member said a show was just starting when the whale “took off really fast in the tank, and then he came back, shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started thrashing around, and one of her shoes flew off,” Victoria Biniak told WKMG-TV.
But Jim Solomons of the Orlando County Sheriff’s Office, said the trainer slipped or fell into the whale’s tank, which seemed to contradict Biniak’s description.
“This appears to be an accidental death, a tragic death,” Solomons said.
The trainer’s name was not immediately released.
Steve McCulloch, founder and program manager at the Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program at Harbour Branch/FAU, said the whale may have been playing, but it is too early to tell.
“It could be play behavior. I wouldn’t jump to conclusions,” he said. “These are very large powerful marine mammals. They exhibit this type of behavior in the wild.”
“Nobody cares more about the animal than the trainer. It’s just hard to fathom that this has happened.”
Mike Wald, a spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration office in Atlanta, said his agency had dispatched an investigator from Tampa.
Wednesday’s death was not the first attack on whale trainers at SeaWorld parks.
In November 2006, a trainer was bitten and held underwater several times by a killer whale during a show at SeaWorld’s San Diego park.
The trainer, Kenneth Peters, escaped with a broken foot. The 17-foot orca that attacked him was the dominant female of SeaWorld San Diego’s seven killer whales. She had attacked Peters two other times, in 1993 and 1999.
In 2004, another whale at the company’s San Antonio park tried to hit one of the trainers and attempted to bite him. He also escaped.
In December, a whale drowned a trainer at a Spanish zoo.
At the Orlando SeaWorld, the body of a naked man was found draped over a 5-ton orca named Tilikum in July 1999. He was scratched and bruised.
Daniel Dukes reportedly made his way past security at SeaWorld and remained in the park after it had closed. Wearing only his underwear, Dukes either jumped, fell or was pulled into the frigid water of Tilikum’s huge tank.
An autopsy ruled that he died of hypothermia in the 50-degree water. But they also said it appeared Tilikum bit the man and tore off his swimming trunks, likely believing he was a toy to play with.
Dukes’ parents filed a lawsuit against the park later that year but ended up withdrawing it.
Tags: Accidents, Animals, Dawn brancheau, Florida, Geography, Killer whales, Mammals, Marine Animals, North America, Orlando, Seaworld, Shamu, United States