Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods
Beastly Behavior
The Name Says It All
Feb. 24, 2010: SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, was rubbing Tilikum, the oldest and largest male killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando, near the end of a noon-time performance at the park when the whale, for reasons which remain unclear, seized Brancheau by her ponytail and dragged her underwater, biting and holding her underwater for several minutes while Brancheau struggled to use her training signals to escape in full view of audience members and spectators viewing the tanks from below. Tilikum eventually released Brancheau for a moment, but seized her again as she attempted to escape the tank, holding her until she died and other workers were able to corral the whale over the tank lift and raise him from the water, beaching him and allowing them to pry Brancheau's remains from the whale's maw. Brancheau reportedly died of a combination of trauma inflicted by Tilikum and drowning.

The death at SeaWorld Orlando was not the first human death caused by killer whales at a water park, nor even the first by Tilikum. In 1991, Tilikum and two female whales at a water park in British Columbia drowned trainer Keltie Byrne after she slipped and fell into their pool, and in 1999, a trespasser was found dead in Tilikum's pool, draped over Tilikum's body and bitten, evidently by Tilikum sometime around the time of death, although hypothermia was ruled the cause of death. Worldwide, over 20 attacks by killer whales on their trainers have been documented since zoos and water parks began capturing and displaying them in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
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