Trainer Dies at Orlando SeaWorld

February 24, 2010

SeaWorld animal trainer Dawn Brancheau died today in an incident involving a 12,000 pound killer whale during a “Dine with Shamu” event. Witness reports vary, but it would seem at this time that the whale, Tilikum, grabbed the trainer by the arm and dragged her through the water until she drowned.

The Orlando Sentinel reports:

Brancheau was finishing up a session with Tilikum, the largest whale in SeaWorld’s collection and its only mature male, following the Dine with Shamu show….Witnesses told the Orlando Sentinel that one of the park’s whales grabbed the trainer by the upper arm, disappeared underwater and swam to the other side of the tank. Tilikum thrashed her around in the water as he swam rapidly around in the whale pool.

Now, there’s all kinds of media frenzy stirring up. PETA is getting it’s engine fired up, reviving gripes that keeping these animals in captivity is abusive and cruel. Other animal rights groups are also chiming in. You can view the Orlando Sentinel article here.

Others will no doubt say the whale should be put down, or that the park should be closed, or whatever. I tend to think that everyone should just chill out for a second.

First of all, my condolences go out to the family of Dawn Brancheau. This is obviously going to be a hard thing for them to deal with.

Second, I have been to SeaWorld in San Diego a couple of times, and I love it. Where are else are people going to have the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures up close and personal? How much scientific information has been gathered because of the work that parks and aquariums do?

The last time I was at SeaWorld, I took my kids with me. They learned so much, and had an amazing time. Two of my kids swam with the dolphins, and one worked with the Beluga Whales. It was an experience we will all treasure for a lifetime. We also enjoyed one of the “Dinner with Shamu” shows, and watched the “Believe” show. Both were amazing events.

Third, these trainers know the risks they take when they enter the water with these creatures. A multi-ton mammal in its element can do whatever it wants. Still, the risks outweigh the potential harm 99% of the time. I would be willing to bet that trainers like Dawn are grateful for every minute they were able to spend with the animals. All of the trainers I met at SeaWorld were enthusiastic about their chosen professions, and loved what they do.

Today’s incident was a sad event, without question. Let’s not blow it out of proportion, however, and use it as a catalyst to destroy these parks. If nothing else, it was a not-so-subtle reminder that nature is to be respected. I would love to return to SeaWorld one day, and enjoy these animals and the hard work the trainers have put into them.

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