Trainer dies in killer whale show at SeaWorld Orlando

Posted | Contributed by rollergator

(UPDATED 2/25/10, 12:36 a.m. ET, to reflect more detailed report from The Sentinel) A veteran animal trainer whose dream was to work at SeaWorld's Shamu Stadium was killed Wednesday when one of the show's killer whales dragged her underwater and she drowned. Witnesses told the Orlando Sentinel that the animal suddenly grabbed Dawn Brancheau by the upper arm, tossed her around in his mouth and pulled her beneath the water as dozens of tourists looked on in horror.

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

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rollergator's avatar

The Shamu Stadium area of the park has been cordoned off, and many guests are unaware of the incident. The reports are all over the place right now, but early indication is the incident occurred directly after the main show area was closed (the "splash zone wave" at the end of the show didn't go as planned because a few of the whales were being uncooperative).

Trainers were closing off that show and gearing up for a "Dine With Shamu" event. Mixed reports are coming in, and crime scene investigators have arrived - yet to make any statements. All of this happened between 12:30-12:45pm today.

One outlet has reported that this is the same whale that was involved in the death of someone who was trespassing after hours in 1999 - but that seems like conjecture at this point.

Last edited by rollergator,
janfrederick's avatar

One outlet has reported that this is the same whale that was involved in the death of someone who was trespassing after hours in 1999 - but that seems like conjecture at this point.

All those Shamus look alike. ;)

Man, that's rough. When I saw the show in San Diego this last summer, all I could think about was how they manage to get the whales not to kill the trainers.

And what do you do with a captive whale that does this? Can't "return" it to the wild.

Last edited by janfrederick,
"I go out at 3 o' clock for a quart of milk and come home to my son treating his body like an amusement park!" - Estelle Costanza
rollergator's avatar

Female trainer, highly expereinced, 40 years old. Slipped and fell alongside/into a holding tank. Since this is being called a drowning, it seems likely that the killer whale dragged her under.

You still have Zoidberg.... You ALL have Zoidberg! (V) (;,,;) (V)

From what I heard that report is false, gator According to another source, the whale grapped the trainer by the waist and thrashed her around like a rag doll.

Jeff's avatar

FYI, the Sentinel article that we linked to seems to be updated as they learn more.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

So how long until it hits YouTube?

CoasterDiscern's avatar

^ Although that is question of curiosity that I for one am guilty of, its terrible to think of the positive and negative attention such a video clip would get.

I see rollergator and majorcut that you both are receiving different sources of information, but I hope that yours is the true one rollergator. Anything would be less traumatizing then a raging whale tossing around a trainer. Especially in front of a crowd.


Ask not what you can do for a coaster, but what a coaster can do for you.
rollergator's avatar

Yeah, I was only watching WESH Orlando because of the hockey coverage, and saw/heard at least four versions.

Right now (stay tuned), I think it may have been after the big GP show and that the incident occurred where relatively few guests involved in the Shamu Dining program *might* have seen...sounded like it was probably a couple dozen people at most. There were a couple of guests who separately reported that the whales were "acting up" during the Wave Goodbye ending where guests in the Splash Zone get wet.

I'm speculating a little bit, but there is some construction going on that may have altered the set-up of their backstage enclosures and "unsettled" the whales to some degree.

I sincerely hope reactions are appropriate and considered, and express deepest sympathy for the family.

Last edited by rollergator,
ridemcoaster's avatar

And naturally, PETA has to weigh in their 2 cents. Saw that coming a mile away.

^ I saw that. Don't these people have any shame or regard for the feelings of the people involved? Rhetorical question... we all know the answer to that. Their agenda comes first. Morons.

crazy horse's avatar

My heart goes out to the family.

We have to remember that these are wild animals(killer whales), and anything can happen.

what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard.
Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it.
I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

I just want to say that once the actual facts come to the surface I think we will find the amount of misinformation coming out at this point is ridiculous.

This can't be that easy!
delan's avatar

Good Lord in heaven! How heartbreaking.

LostKause's avatar

That is sad. The article almost made me cry a little. it was her dream to work at the park and train orcas. I wonder if the other whales sensed that something was going to happen, and that's why they were all acting strange during the show?

My condolences go out to the family and park staff who knew her.

Jeff's avatar

Sentinel updated again just after midnight ET. It's still not clear what the animal's motivation was. Perhaps we may never know.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

^Why would we ever know? These animals have their own agenda and have every right to have one.

I am not against captive Orcas, but the risk is there, and the trainers know this. It's not like this is a regular event so when it does happen, it is what it is.

I feel bad for this female trainer and her friends and family, but she took on a risky occupation and died doing (as far as I can tell) what she loved.

We must move on.

My favorite MJ tune: "Billie Jean" which I have been listening to alot now. RIP MJ.

Have any of you ever wondered why regional zoos don't house Orcas? Or even Great White Sharks for that matter?

When you go to a place like Sea World or Six Flags Discovery Kingdom , the only marine mammal that they have that doesn't exist at regular zoos or popular aquariums is the Orca . Most zoos have every other marine mammal and fish species in their collection. Like I said, I am not against captive Orcas.

Food for thought. :)

Last edited by Chitown,

My favorite MJ tune: "Billie Jean" which I have been listening to alot now. RIP MJ.

Terribly sad story. I was just down there a couple of weeks ago and saw the show. I even recognize the lady who was killed from her picture. I feel for her friends, family and co-workers. I hope they can quickly figure out why this happened so that the whale trainers can get back to doing what they love.

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

It seems like it's been a while since one of these incidents happened. It used to seem more
prominent when all the seaworlds had Shamu's. With the amount of shows daily
and amount of parks doing these shows I bet the odds of something like this 
happening are far less than media outlets make it seem. Also I'm suprised they still do the 
"kiss the whale" routine with an animal domesticated or not. Seems like a bad idea, 
but it sure is cool!

Last edited by JoshuaTBell,

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