Trainer dies in killer whale show at SeaWorld Orlando

Posted Wednesday, February 24, 2010 4:03 PM | 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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Thursday, February 25, 2010 9:30 AM
Frantic Ferret's avatar

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

Probably because no great white has survived more than 6 months in captivity and most less than 6 weeks. I can't even begin to image what the cost is to create and maintain an environment for an Orca would be. I think it would be beyond the budget of most zoos out there.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010 10:51 AM

Chitown said:
...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. [...]
[/...]

This reminds me of something I saw at, of all places, Geauga Lake, back when Six Flags was trying to turn the old Sea World into something more like a zoo...

A staff member was doing some outreach with a couple of tiger cubs. That is to say, it wasn't a show in the usual sense, but he was showing off the tigers and talking with the patrons. He actually commented that while he was comfortable working with the tigers, and had been doing so for a long time, he would *never* trust them. They were, after all, wild animals, so he always made sure he knew where they were, what they were doing, and always made sure to limit their ability to surprise him.

I'm sure that's standard practice for anybody who works with wild animals, but he was the only person I ever heard actually articulate it.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010 11:39 AM
Jeff's avatar

Chitown said:
^Why would we ever know?

Uh, because only Spock can talk to whales and ask them?
The parade of morons begins in the comments on this editorial.

You can just set captive animals free. It has been tried, and it failed. Keiko ("Free Willy") was a textbook example of how captive animals are socialized and often prefer the company of humans.

A wild animal did something unpredictable, and at the end of the day, that's the only real take away we can have. It doesn't mean that the practice of keeping and observing animals is wrong or evil, as many like to put it in those black and white terms.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Thursday, February 25, 2010 12:32 PM
MidwavePC's avatar

http://www.wkyc.com/news/local/news_article.aspx?storyid=131351&catid=3

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Thursday, February 25, 2010 1:00 PM
Carrie M.'s avatar

Any premature loss of human life is tragic and I feel for those impacted.

I think it's a good point, though, to remember that this woman made working with these animals her life and died doing something see really enjoyed. It was risky and she took the risk.

I would highly doubt this woman would support any drastic changes being made to the programs she supported or even worse, the death of the orca without compelling evidence that something is wrong with it.

The questions following something like this shouldn't automatically be whether orcas belong in captivity or not. Instead, I would be compelled to ask if another trainer is present when something like this happens would that trainer be able to get the animal "refocused" before death occurs. When Sea World says they are going to take a look at policies and procedures, I would imagine it's that kind of thing they will investigate.


"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

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Thursday, February 25, 2010 1:37 PM
rollergator's avatar

I agree with everything Carrie said, and want to add that protecting the marine environment is a critical message that's delivered in the Sea World shows - and that that message is the one Dawn Brancheau lived, and ultimately gave her life, to reinforce. Really hopeful that the parks honor her memory, and her life, by continuing to educate the public on the importance of habitat protection. (Short article for further reading - http://blog.marinedepot.com/2008/02/trash-island-discovered-in-pacific.html).

All that being said, this is the third time that Tillikum has been involved in a human's death. Once with a trainer in Canada in 1991, a second time when the intruder at SWO snuck into the enclosure after the park had closed for an ill-advised unauthorized swim with the orca. Does that mean Tillie should be removed from hands-on interaction, or removed from shows? I don't know...the most-recent article suggests that SWO will keep Tillie around - although in what capacity seems undetermined.

Dawn B. gave her life to a very worthy cause. Here's hoping that her memory is honored in a way that she would feel appropriate.


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Thursday, February 25, 2010 7:15 PM

Even though she did understand the risks involved, still tragic and sad for her and her family and friends.

I have no problem with Sea World. But I think we should be honest about its purpose. Primary purpose is entertainment (at least with respect to the public aspects). Education aspect is marginal at best. Seems incredibly odd to me to say that we are educating folks about the importance of preserving/protecting habitats when we are showing them animals kept in small concrete pools with water that is a color which does not appear in nature while those animals are doing tricks that they would never do in the wild (such as jumping high out of the water with a human standing on their snout).

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Thursday, February 25, 2010 7:37 PM
ApolloAndy's avatar

From what I understand most of the animals would die in the open sea so it's concrete pool or nothing. The behaviors actually help the animals stay engaged since they are confined to a concrete pool.


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Thursday, February 25, 2010 8:14 PM

I don't know why but this trajedy reminds me so much of the Lugar who died a few weeks ago.


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Thursday, February 25, 2010 9:46 PM
Jeff's avatar

SeaWorld Orlando's tank is one of the biggest of its kind in the world, and the water is clear. The tank is blue.

These people commenting on the stories on mainstream press sites are ignorant, as are a lot of the activists. The vast majority of these animals now were born in captivity, and could not survive in the wild. You may recall the big experiment rehabilitate Keiko ("Free Willy") and send him off, and it did not work. He still liked hanging out with, and being fed by, humans.

The other question is about whether or not it's right to even breed them going forward, for observation or entertainment or whatever. That a company can make money with the animals doesn't make it inherently bad, evil, immoral or whatever. If you talk to any scientist who cares for and studies the animals, you can be sure that they strongly believe there is value in having them.

My position is that conservation and academic study is absolutely justified, particularly as they end up on endangered species lists because of humans destroying or altering their habitat. I have no tolerance for people who make this an absolute issue rooted in some self-serving moral code.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Thursday, February 25, 2010 9:54 PM

Jeff,

I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject. I just about threw something at my tv screen when I watched Larry King Live this evening. Jack Hanna was on supporting Sea World while the President of PETA and Bob Barker were just attacking the park.

I think there is a proper place in the world for Sea World and zoological parks in general. We have a generation of children who appreciate these animals far more than even I did when I was a kid.

And, you could make a pretty good case that Sea World was instrumental in keeping the Manatee species from extinction. Their efforts to educate the public on the manatee population got laws changed in Florida governing boat speeds in manatee areas and they do a great deal of rehabilitation work.

And, any time there is a natural or other disaster involving marine life you will see Sea World personnel on the scene. Do the parks make money? Yes. Are they entertainment first and foremost? Yes. But, that doesn't mean they don't serve a legitimate purpose.

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Friday, February 26, 2010 1:36 AM

Blue tanks with clear water doesn't change how odd it is to me that we bring folks there with the idea of educating them about preserving their native habitats. And compared to the ocean and the distances the animals would cover in the wild even the largest tanks in the world are small. And that we have them doing tricks to keep them engaged in such small tanks also seems odd to say.

A lot of folks are ignorant. Not unique to activists or anyone taking either side on this issue.

My guess is that you talked with anyone with a passion for something or a job in a given field, they will tell you there is value in that something or field. Doesn't make it true though.

There are a lot of folks who make absolute issues in issues based on some self-serving moral code. My guess is that folks tend to tolerate those moral codes with which they agree.

Providing entertainment is a legitimate purpose. Nothing wrong with that at all. But for some reason, a lot of folks don't seem to agree with that and struggle to find other legitimate purposes.

And to be clear, I like Sea World. Enjoyed going to the one near Cleveland when I was a kid. Would go to one now if the opportunity arose.

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Friday, February 26, 2010 2:05 AM
CoasterDiscern's avatar

So where do you draw the line? Or is the line S shaped? When does one decide whether an encaged, wild, and potentially very dangerous mammal/animal become or remain the centre of attraction?

When can a whale be distinguished between a threat to human life, or pose as an attraction to make money in an acceptable manner? Even more importantly, become the heart of scientific research, and the ultimate reward of uncovering new discoveries.

Last edited by CoasterDiscern, Friday, February 26, 2010 2:08 AM
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Friday, February 26, 2010 2:49 AM
Jeff's avatar

I don't think those questions matter that much in the context of what critics are alleging. Most of those arguments are made over the well being of the animal. I don't even know how you begin to define that, but what indication do we have that they're not "happy?" People tend to engage in personification there a bit.

I think the scientific benefits are obvious, and I would add that there aren't many non-profits or universities who could afford to study these animals without SeaWorld.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Friday, February 26, 2010 6:20 AM
Carrie M.'s avatar

I don't think the edutainment factor is any more odd at Sea World than it is in any other context where it's used. People are more likely to engage and open their minds to a topic when they're being dazzled along with it, rather than sitting through long, boring documentaries.


"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

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Friday, February 26, 2010 9:25 AM

RatherGoodBear said:
^ 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.

Not that I agree with their cause(s), but PETA is almost always asked for their comment on situations like these.


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Friday, February 26, 2010 1:19 PM
rollergator's avatar

New news per today's press conference:
Killer whale shows to resume tomorrow in the three Sea World parks (FL, SA, SD).

Regarding "edutainment": If you don't entertain, you don't have the people's *attention* - so education becomes almost moot at that point.

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Friday, February 26, 2010 2:19 PM
ApolloAndy's avatar

We apparently need more entertainment in our schools.


Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

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Monday, August 23, 2010 2:21 PM
rollergator's avatar

Updated 08/23/10: SeaWorld Parks will contest OSHA citation regarding death of trainer...

http://www.seaworldparksblog.com/explore/blog/seaworld-parks-entertainment-will-contest-osha-citation

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