Shamu not to blame | the whale in question is named Tilikum

Trainer killed in rogue whale attack

An Orca being fed. From Wikimedia Commons.

Tragedy struck at Sea World this week, as 40 year old trainer Dawn Brancheau was attacked by Tilikum, an Orca who resides at Sea World Orlando.  According to eyewitness statements, the whale seized Brancheau, thrashing her about and then dragged her into the tank where she drowned.  She was 40 years old.  When people go to Sea World, this was not what they were paying for, to say the least.  One hopes her loved ones can find some measure of peace in the wake of this event.

Where does Shamu fit into this?

Well, sometimes one has to remember that not every0ne on the internet is exactly up to date.  Each of the three Sea Worlds in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio, calls whales Shamu,  after the whale that brought Sea World a lot of attention.  Shamu, originally, was a female Orca captured in Puget Sound in 1965 and placed in Sea World San Diego from then until her death in 1971.  Shamu herself wasn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy type, nearly killing one of her handlers.  The actual Shamu has been deceased for over three decades.


Tilikum is a large male, and at 22 feet in length and 12,300 pounds, he is the largest captive bull Orca on record.  He was involved in the death of a trainer at his previous home at Sealand around Victoria, British Columbia in 1991.  After that he was transferred to Sea World Orlando, and 8 years after the move, a transient man who had eluded park security was found dead in Tilikum’s tank.  He had been bitten, though it is assumed he died of hypothermia or drowning, not related to the whale. The incident that claimed the life of Dawn Brancheau was confirmed by numerous eyewitnesses and was not an accident – she was seized and pulled into the water. The attack appears to have been deliberate.

Free Willy not exactly true to life

Orcas, or as they are also known Killer Whales (a sobriquet they’ve earned), are apex predators.  The largest of the dolphin species, their usual size is up to or over 20 feet in length, and weighing in over several tons, with a lifespan up to 50 years or more.  Sometimes referred to as wolves of the sea, they hunt in packs, feeding on fish, sea lions, seals, and sharks.  They will also hunt juvenile whales of other species, by separating it from it’s mother and surrounding it so that it can’t surface, drowning their victims.  Regardless of any tricks you might have seen one do or movies you may have seen, they are dangerous.

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