Male orca, Tillikum, kills experienced SeaWorld trainer during show


By GrrlScientist

(via @ Living the Scientific Life @ScienceBlogs)

Yesterday afternoon, experienced whale trainer, 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau, was attacked and killed by 30-year-old male orca [killer whale], Tillikum, during the afternoon show at SeaWorld, in Orlando, Florida. The 12,000 pound male orca, Orcinus orca, apparently grabbed his trainer and thrashed her to death in front of the horrified audience. This animal has killed two other humans during his lifetime.

Two newsreports with the Orange County (Florida) Sheriff’s Department reveals the homicide department is conducting a “death investigation”. It appeared to be an accident, not foul play. Dan Brown, spokesperson for SeaWorld Orlando explained that they also are conducting an investigation. “We have never in the history of our parks experienced an incident like this and all of our standard operating procedures will come under review.”


A witness to the event, Eldon Skaggs, tells a different story from that stated by SeaWorld officials, saying that the “trainer was massaging the whale on his belly, then the whale took off really fast, came around, right up to the glass, popped up and started thrashing, grabbed the trainer by the waist, started thrashing, and her shoe came off. The sirens went off.”


The orcas were apparently agitated and misbehaved during the noon show, which eventually was ended early. Yet the afternoon show went on, despite this unusual behavior. Orca expert, Janet Mann of Georgetown, says it’s impossible to tell if an orca is in an aggressive mood:


Here is a 2007 video by “Rose” (who also goes by the YouTube handle, “TillikmTrainer“) that tells her version of Tillikum’s life story:



“GrrlScientist” is the blog pseudonym for a female evolutionary biologist/ornithologist and freelance science and nature writer who lives in Frankurt am Main, Germany.

This entry was posted originally on Living the Scientific Life on ScienceBlogs. National Geographic and ScienceBlogs have formed a partnership.


Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

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