ORLANDO – A killer whale attacked and killed a trainer in front of a horrified audience at a SeaWorld show Wednesday, with witnesses saying the animal involved in two previous deaths dragged the trainer under and thrashed her around violently.
Distraught audience members were hustled out of the stadium, and the park was immediately closed.
Veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, was one of the park’s most experienced. It wasn’t clear if she drowned or died from the thrashing.
SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs confirmed the whale was Tilikum, one of three orcas blamed for killing a trainer who lost her balance and fell in the pool with them in 1991 at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia.
Tilikum was also involved in a 1999 death, when the body of a man who had sneaked by Orlando SeaWorld security was found draped over the whale. The man either jumped, fell or was pulled into the frigid water and died of hypothermia, though he was also bruised and scratched by Tilikum.
Wednesday’s death was not the first attack on whale trainers at SeaWorld parks.