A SeaWorld Orlando trainer was killed today when one of the orca whales named Tilikum pulled the woman into the water and violently thrashed her around until her death. According to eyewitnesses, Dawn Brancheou, 40, was pulled into the water by Tilikum during one of the afternoon shows. It is unclear whether drowning or the violent thrashing was the ultimate cause of death. What is unusual in this case is that this whale has been implicated in two other murders, and has a history of violent behavior.
The first such incident occurred when a group of three orcas, including Tilikum, killed their trainer when she fell into the pool. The incident occurred in 1991 at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia. Humane Society scientist Naomi Rose claimed the orcas weren't trying to kill her, but that they "didn't know that humans can't hold their breath as long as whales can." None of the whales were charged, and Tilikum was subsequently sent to SeaWorld Orlando in Orlando, Florida.
The second incident in 1999 was much more mysterious. A park patron, presumed to have stayed after hours, jumped into Tilikum's tank at SeaWorld Orlando. Hours later, he was found, dead, and draped across the whale with his trunks floating in the water. Trauma to the man's body indicated that he was dragged alongside the orca's tank. The final cause of death was ruled to be hypothermia, but most suspicion pointed toward Tilikum as having ultimately caused the death of the rather stupid man. Again Tilikum avoided any jail time.
Now there is this third incident, and it is difficult to say since little time has passed, but Tilikum is likely to again avoid any legal reprimand. So far, Tilikum's attorney's suggestion that the "killer whale" moniker not be held against his client have been loosely observed, though the public has been growing impatient. Without an indictment and prosecution set forth by Florida's Attorney General's office, Tilikum could be free to kill more trainers and brainless park attendees. With the change of scenery brought about by the 1991 incident, it was thought that Tilikum's hyperactive behavior would curtail, but the incident in 1999 disproved that. Now with a third murder on his hands, SeaWorld and the public really should be concerned. It is possible that in Tilikum lies a serial murderer that has largely escaped justice through a shrewd legal counsel and animal rights sympathy, and if given the chance, he could strike again.