Sea World officials say Dawn Brancheau was pulled into the tank by the adult male orca, Tilikum (also spelled “Tillikum”). Witnesses say she was in the tank and was dragged underwater by her ponytail by the whale.
The Connells saw the entire event happen just after they finished their “Lunch with Shamu,” just before 2 p.m. They said the Tilikum (also spelled as “Tillikum”) and Brancheau had been playful during the entire lunch. The Connells stuck around after the show to get some extra video, before turning the camera off — not knowing what would happen moments later.
“When he pulled her, I knew he pulled her, it wasn’t the show,” said Suzanne Connell, who shot the video. “The show had long ended and I yelled, ‘He took her under! He took her under!’ and then someone else said it too. The other trainer jumped into action and I heard that it’s protocol [that] not another trainer can go in the water.”
Trainers had to coax the aggressive whale into a smaller pool and use a platform to lift it out of the water before they could free Brancheau from his jaws. Brancheau was already dead when she was freed, and probably died from multiple traumatic injuries and drowning.
“The whale may have been playing, but it is too early to tell,” said Steve McCulloch, founder and program manager at the Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program at Harbor Branch/Florida Atlantic University. “These are very large powerful marine mammals. They exhibit this type of behavior in the wild.”
The Shamu show will be closed indefinitely.
Hrm. What does “indefinitely” mean? One week, maybe?