Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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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?

Comments

  1. #1 Mary Cope
    February 25, 2010

    My heart and prayers goes out to Ms Brancheau’s family and friends. I’ve seen her perform at SeaWorld several times before and I know that she will be terribly missed.

    Also for Tilikum, my heart hurts for him too. I’d hate to see anything happen to him like euthanasia. He’s a wild animal and also a trained animal. I think that just because he’s an animal/mammal, that doesn’t mean that he’s not going to have an off day once in a while. I’ve read articles that have said that he had appeared aggitated, so I find it so difficult to understand why Ms Brancheau was allowed to go into the water with him. I hope that some answers can be found. Love n prayers

  2. #2 Mary Cope
    February 25, 2010

    My heart and prayers goes out to Ms Brancheau’s family and friends. I’ve seen her perform at SeaWorld several times before and I know that she will be terribly missed.

    Also for Tilikum, my heart hurts for him too. I’d hate to see anything happen to him like euthanasia. He’s a wild animal and also a trained animal. I think that just because he’s an animal/mammal, that doesn’t mean that he’s not going to have an off day once in a while. I’ve read articles that have said that he had appeared aggitated, so I find it so difficult to understand why Ms Brancheau was allowed to go into the water with him. I hope that some answers can be found. Love n prayers

  3. #3 joshua
    February 25, 2010

    This was an industrial accident. The trainers who work with 11,000 pound animals know the risks.

    The people who manage and work in zoos and animal parks care more about animals than anyone. I’ve known many of them personally.

  4. #4 Barn Owl
    February 25, 2010

    Tilikum has been used as a breeding animal for several years, and has sired several calves, including a few by (what we in the equestrian world would call) “live cover” (artificial insemination is also used to impregnate captive female orcas). Perhaps it was unwise to continue to use a breeding bull orca in shows that required any close human-whale contact, in the tank or out. Some stallions cannot be used for show or racing, and are kept for breeding purposes only. And of course there are many differences between orcas and horses, all of which make the latter much easier to handle and more predictable than the former. In spite of the years of domestication, status as a prey species rather than predator, selective breeding for temperament, and countless hours of interaction and observation between humans and horses, stallions nevertheless occasionally maim and kill humans, sometimes deliberately and savagely. In some cases a vicious stallion has been mistreated by humans, but that isn’t always the case.

    I think we know very little about the social dynamics, breeding behavior, and reproductive physiology of orcas – certainly far, far less than we know about those same subjects in horses. Seems to me that using an actively breeding “stud” male to do stunts and shows is a bad idea, and perhaps indicates that SeaWorld really isn’t concerned about increasing knowledge about animal behavior and conservation.

  5. #5 joshua
    February 25, 2010

    Barn Owl, how do you know the whale was being aggressive? How do you know it wasn’t just playing? This is the largest animal in captivity. It could kill you just by accidentally hitting you with its tail.

    How many people are killed annually in steel mills or coal mines? Should we eliminate those? How about automobiles?

    Parks like Sea World increase appreciation and awareness of these beautiful creatures.

  6. #6 Barn Owl
    February 25, 2010

    joshua, I didn’t say that Tilikum was necessarily being aggressive or trying to kill the trainer – he could have been playing, or displaying some other behavior. He did grab the trainer, though, so it’s unlikely to have been completely accidental. I don’t see how anyone could ever know for sure – what are the signs of aggressive intent for an orca? I know very well what they are in a horse or a dog, but what about a cetacean?

    I don’t get your comparison with coal mines, steel mills, or automobiles at all. Sorry, I don’t think they’re remotely relevant to this situation.

  7. #7 kim
    February 26, 2010

    ALL I WANTA SAY IS THAT THESE ANIMALS WANT THEIR FREEDOM…THEY NEED TO RELEASE THEM ALL TO THE OCEAN’S WHERE THEY WANTA BE…SAD DEAL THO….FREE WILLY!!!!!

  8. #8 avic joson
    February 26, 2010

    maybe, tillikum thought that dawn’s ponytail is a fish like what she fed him before the attack happened. because we all know that all fish, a small or a big fish eats smaller fish than them as their daily bread.

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