When Sea World strikes back! Dawn Brancheau tragedy revisited

Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by a killer whale.

They're not called "killer whales" for nothing.

Last month was a solemn one for Sea World and the nation. Whenever humans put their trust and faith in a wild animal, certain risks need careful consideration. Dawn Brancheau was an excellent trainer of marine animals who paid the ultimate price. It’s not clear whether Dawn let complacency skew her view of danger when dealing with marine wildlife, but her life was lost and the life of one of nature’s most fierce yet delicate creatures is hanging in the balance.

Who’s to blame for this tragedy?

No one can say for sure. You can’t really blame the whale, for he was only acting in the way all wild animals do. He didn’t ask to be in captivity. On the flip side, 40-year-old Dawn and others in her field were just trying to preserve a species. The question that’s raised in my mind and the minds of many others is why this mammal was allowed to participate at all — he was involved in two other fatal accidents prior to Dawn Brancheau’s death.

Drowning or Whale attack

It’s unclear whether Dawn died from drowning or from the whale attack itself. Audience comments suggest the whale grabbed the trainer by the waist and thrashed her so violently that her shoe flew off. The incident took place at the end of a noon show. Is this the end of sea world? Only time will tell. I certainly smell a lawsuit because of the extensive negligence concerning the danger assessment of this particular whale.

Sometimes the best predictor of an animal’s future behavior is the animal’s past behavior, and Tilikum indeed has a shady past. It’s easy to automatically blame a wild creature when the unthinkable happens, but in this case, it has been brought to the world’s attention that Dawn died partially because of her own negligence. Sadly, right before she was dragged into the deep waters, she decided that it would be OK to lay stomach-down on the trainer platform, which is only about four inches deep.

A history of fatal miss-judgments

I am truly amazed at how this was allowed to occur. This whale is as wild as they come and even in the wild, the killer whale stays true to its name. They don’t call them killer whales for nothing. According to the Nation/World associated press:

“Tilikum, one of three Orcas blamed for killing a trainer who lost her balance and fell in the pool with them in 1991 at Sea-Land of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia. Tilikum also was involved in a 1999 death; the body of a man who had slipped past Orlando Sea-World security was found draped over him.”

Sea World has rules in place to protect its trainers, so what went wrong?

Sea World’s protocol is to never allow yourself, as a trainer, to get too close to a killer whale’s mouth for the reason that death is a high possibility. Tilikum didn’t know he was about to kill the trainer he grew to love, but rather, he saw Dawn’s loose pony tail flailing in the water spread out behind her head. As far as Tilikum was concerned, it was a fair game. He probably thought it was an easy snack, like a snake, fish or some seaweed floating about. She most likely looked like a seal to him.

Tilikum saw Dawn’s pony tail floating in the water next to him and in an instant he grabbed a hold of it, dragging Dawn down to her death. Let this be a lesson to all; always keep your guard up. The only consolation I get in this is the fact that Dawn died doing what she loved, and she certainly fulfilled her dreams while on this planet.

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