Entries in Dawn Brancheau (5)


"Death at SeaWorld": Book Slams Popular Theme Park

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More than two years after the horrific death of a SeaWorld killer whale trainer, former trainers from the popular Orlando, Fla., theme park have taken the park to task for its safety record and its treatment of killer whales, also known as orcas, in the new book, Death at Sea World.

In February 2010, a 12,000-pound killer whale named Tilikum dragged veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau under water to her death.  Tilikum was also linked to two other deaths -- that of another trainer in 1991 and of a man who snuck into Tilikum's tank in 1999.

"SeaWorld can make the environment safe, according to them, 98 percent of the time.  But what happens when the world's top predator decides to go off behavior?" former trainer Jeffrey Ventre asked in an interview with ABC's 20/20.

In a statement emailed to ABC News, SeaWorld called its killer whale program "a model for marine zoological facilities around the world" and said that in the last two years, additions "in the areas of personal safety, facility design and communication have enhanced this program further still."

Ventre was one of four former SeaWorld trainers interviewed by Death at Sea World author David Kirby.  Ventre was fired from SeaWorld in 1995 because, he claimed, he had voiced his concerns about the treatment of whales there.  (In his book, Kirby reports that Ventre was fired a week after kissing a whale's tongue, in violation of park rules.  Ventre said in the book that many had violated the so-called "tongue-tacticle" rule but were not disciplined and called his firing "total bull****.")

SeaWorld declined to comment on Ventre's history with the park but issued the following statement on Kirby's book: "While we have not yet been given the opportunity to read Mr. Kirby's book, we are familiar with his articles and blog posts on SeaWorld and the issues of marine mammal display."

Kirby, the park said, "has been very candid about his personal opposition to SeaWorld's killer whale program and we anticipate that his book will expand on those themes.  We disagree with Kirby's positions on marine mammal display and hope that he, unlike others who engage in the debate over these issues, confines his arguments to matters of fact."

In his book, Kirby wrote that there are no records of orcas in the wild attacking humans but, in captivity, aggression against trainers is not uncommon.

Kirby also noted that it may not just be the trainers who suffer. Killer whales in captivity have a mortality rate of 2.5 times higher than those living in the Pacific Northwest, Kirby wrote, citing a paper by marine mammal scientist Naomi Rose of the Humane Society.

Trainers interviewed by Kirby spoke of whales breaking their teeth on metal gates and having broken teeth removed with power drills; mother whales going into mourning after being separated from their offspring; and trainers being instructed to "masturbate" Tilikum -- the whale later blamed for Brancheau's death -- to collect semen for an artificial insemination program.

Former trainer John Jett said in the book that trainers were routinely kept in the dark about safety problems related to killer whale work.

"A lack of detailed information was the norm whenever accidents happened at other parks," he said.  "I remember one incident when all of us were pulled from water work for a short time.  To this day, I don't know what happened."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


SeaWorld Fights Charges after Trainer's Death

Stockbyte/Thinkstock (file photo)(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- SeaWorld Orlando and federal officials are sparring in a Florida courtroom this week over charges that the popular theme park put its employees at risk by allowing them to perform shows in potentially dangerous conditions.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration filed an extensive complaint detailing the allegedly unsafe work environment at SeaWorld and said in court Wednesday that the theme park failed to keep proper documentation of whale behaviors that could endanger trainers.

The complaint comes on the heels of the death of Dawn Brancheau, a trainer who was violently drowned by a killer whale named Tilikum during a live show at the Orlando park in February 2010.

In a copy of the complaint provided to ABC News, OSHA specifically mentions the killer whale.

"At the Shamu Stadium pools animal trainers working with Tilikum, a killer whale with known aggressive tendencies and who was involved in the 1991 death of a whale trainer at a marine park in Vancouver, British Columbia, were exposed to struck-by and drowning hazards in that they were allowed unprotected contact with Tilikum," the complaint states.

SeaWorld vehemently denies the charges that it put its employees at risk.

"These allegations are completely baseless, unsupported by any evidence or precedent, and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care," wrote SeaWorld in a statement.

SeaWorld is asking that a judge throw out the three federal safety citations, which would not only slam the park with up to $75,000 in fines -- but also threaten its famous shows.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


SeaWorld’s Iconic Killer Whale Show May End

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- It could be the next installment of Free Willy, provided the court rules against SeaWorld executives and decides to cancel its popular Shamu shows after a whale killed an animal trainer 19 months ago.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the Shamu shows are the most marketable thrill to vacationers around the world, and restrictions could heavily cripple the franchise—on top of the $75,000 fine the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration wants to issue SeaWorld.

The proposed cancellation of the show comes after the Feb. 24, 2010 death of veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed when a 6-ton killer whale named Tilikum pulled her underwater.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Drowned Trainer's Family OK With Whale Returning to Water Show

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The family of the SeaWorld trainer who was killed by a killer whale last year said on Monday that they're okay with the whale returning to the water to perform in shows.

On Feb. 24, 2010, Dawn Brancheau was killed when a 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum grabbed her ponytail and drowned her.  On Saturday, the whale returned to the Orlando theme park's big stage to thunderous applause.

"If that's what's best for Tili, that's what Dawn would want," Dawn Brancheau's sister Diane Gross told ABC News.  She said that decision should be left to SeaWorld.  "They have the expertise."

Brancheau's death was caught on tape and watched by horrified spectators.  The 40-year-old trainer was at ease with the killer whale and had just petted him on the nose just before it pulled her into the pool and began swinging her around in its mouth.

Thomas LoVerde, Brancheau's brother, said he does not know if his sister would have wanted the animal euthanized.  "Obviously it's hard to speak on Dawn's behalf in this situation," he said.

Following Brancheau's death, the park banned trainers from being in the water with all killer whales.

Tilikum is connected to the deaths of three others.  In 1991, trainer Keltie Lee Byrne fell into a tank holding Tilikum and two other whales at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, Canada.  A homicide inquest found that the whales had prevented Byrne from climbing out of the tank and ruled her death an accident.

After Tilikum was transferred to SeaWorld in Orlando, Tilikum was again connected to the death of a person in 1999.  The body of Daniel Dukes, 27, was found naked and draped across the giant whale's body in July 1999.  Dukes reportedly got past security at SeaWorld and remained in the park after it had closed.  Wearing only his underwear, Dukes jumped, fell or was pulled into the frigid water of Tilikum's huge tank.

Tilikum had been brought to SeaWorld mostly to mate and trainers like Brancheau were not allowed in the water with him, but did interact with him on the pool ledge.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


SeaWorld's Killer Whale Returns to Stage, Gets Thunderous Ovation

Stockbyte/Thinkstock (file photo)(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- Thunderous applause greeted SeaWorld's Tilikum Thursday as the killer whale returned to the theme park's big stage, 13 months after grabbing trainer Dawn Brancheau by her ponytail and drowning her.

SeaWorld officials in Orlando, Florida would not specify what safety precautions were instituted, but some appeared to be obvious.

Steel bars blocked the whales from the main stage and female trainers wore their hair in high buns.  Trainers also stayed out of the water and off the stages during Tilikum's performance.

When the 12,000 pound orca made his entrance, the crowd erupted in applause and cheers.  But many were still fearful.

"I was afraid," said one boy who was splashed by the giant whale.

Colleen Gorman of St. Petersburg Beach said, "I didn't see any new protective measures… he's a timebomb.  If anyone gets near him.. he's been linked to three deaths already, I'm afraid that if anybody comes close to him he'll do it again."

"He's big, very big," said Bob Beasy of Chicago, who was pleased to see that the trainers were out of the pool.  "They put up bars for safety, which means the trainers are safe and we can still those beautiful animals perform."

SeaWorld officials said that it was the killer whale's "choice" to perform in the Believe show Thursday morning and that none of the park's whales are coerced to participate.

In a statement, executives from SeaWorld defended Tilikum's reentry into the performing world, saying it "is an important component of his physical, social and mental enrichment."

Tilikum has been connected to the death of three humans.  The last death was on Feb. 24, 2010 when Tilikum used his girth to snatch trainer Dawn Brancheau's ponytail, pull her underwater and shake her violently until she died.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio