New report: Killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando pulled trainer by ponytail; rescuers delayed by aggressive orca
Trainer Dawn Brancheau was pulled underwater by her ponytail; She died from “multiple traumatic injuries and drowning,” a new report says
File photo of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed during an accident at the park Wednesday, February 24, 2010. (JULIE FLETCHER, ORLANDO SENTINEL / December 30, 2005)
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Brancheau, 40, on Wednesday was "interacting with the attraction's largest male whale in knee deep water when the animal grabbed her by the hair, said to be in a long pony tail, and pulled her underwater,'' the Orange County Sheriff's Office said a statement.
"Rescuers were not able to immediately jump in and render assistance to the Brancheau due Tilikum's "aggressive nature.
The orca that killed veteran trainer Brancheau on Wednesday has been linked to two previous deaths since 1991.
Investigators said SeaWorld staffers recovered her after Tilikum's "was coaxed into a smaller pool and lifted out of the water by a large scale/platform that lay on the bottom of the smaller tank,'' the statement said.
"While this incident remains the subject of an ongoing death investigation there are no signs of foul play. All evidence and witness statements indicate that the death was a tragic accident,'' the statement added.
Investigators said rescue workers originally thought Brancheau had "slipped or fell into the orca's pool but, after witness statements were taken and reviewed by homicide investigators, it became apparent that the whale had, in fact, pulled Brancheau into the pool and was the cause of her fatal injuries,'' the statement said.
The statement was released shortly after an official at SeaWorld Orlando said that Tilikum is being evaluated and will be kept.
Chuck Tompkins, the corporate curator in charge of animal behavior for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, said that he expects SeaWorld to be taking care of the orca for a long time.
He added that he does not think the animal could survive in the wild.
"I think it's unfair to do that to an animal," he said, adding that SeaWorld employees also continue to mourn Brancheau, their longtime coworker and friend.
"This has been extremely difficult for us ... Every animal loved working with Dawn," said Tompkins.
The fatal killer whale attack of SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau continued to make international news this morning.
Much of the debate on morning news shows centered on what to do with Tilikum.
Earlier today, Jack Hanna, a well-known animal expert with ties to Central Florida, spoke on national television about the tragedy, saying animal experts such as Brancheau are aware of the risks, as well as the benefits, of working with live animals.
"The only thing I can compare it to is when the astronauts went to the space station and that tragic thing happened coming back," Hanna said, referring to the 2003 disintegration of the Columbia space shuttle that killed seven astronauts. "Why did we do that? We did that to learn more about space and how that will help us."
This morning, as tourists returned to the park, an announcement was made on the speaker system, apologizing that The Shamu Show would be closed today. Nothing was said about the death.
"It's scary," SeaWorld Orlando visitor April D'Agostino said this morning. "But they know what's at risk when they get in the tank with those whales."
D'Agostino heard the news about the trainer's death on television, as did the Malkins from Asheville, N.C.