Dawn Brancheau, 40, animal trainer, died during a performance at Seaworld Orlando in Florida last Wednesday on 24 February. Tilikum, the orca she had been working with, had pulled her by her pony tail into the water where she drowned. This is Tillikum..., captured 1983 in Iceland, and the only breeding male at Seaworld Orlando. The 30 years old orca will not be put down but handled differently now. He is at 12 tons the world's biggest captive orca and as he was already involved in a previous accident in which a trainer was killed, he was not trained to do water work, just splashes and jumps. Dawn Brancheau had been working with him for 16 years.
A similar accident happened already on Christmas 2009 in the Spanish Seaworld Park Loro Parque in Tenerife . Alexis Martinez, 29, died during a training session with Keto, a 14 year old orca. An unexpected move by Keto made Alexis Martinez fall into the water where he died by asphyxia caused by compression of the chest. Here you can find a video which was posted "in Loving Memory of Alexis Martínez ', showing him and orca whales at work...
With this posting I want to express my sympathy to the families, friends and collegues, it is a tragedy when a dedicated animal trainer dies while working with the animals she/he cared for.
This posting is not meant to discuss orcas in captivity or training animals for shows, there are certainly other places to do so.
Sources & photo credits: Tilikum, more infos to orcas working at Seaworld parks on Orca Spirit, more photos here, article here and here (about he first show yesterday after the accident)