SeaWorld says it will resume its killer whale shows on Saturday but trainers won’t enter the water, after a deadly attack killed one of its most experienced trainers this week.
The organization’s president and CEO, Jim Atchison, said in a Friday news conference that SeaWorld “will only resume in-water interaction” between its trainers and whales after an investigation into what happened to trainer Dawn Brancheau is completed.
Brancheau, 40, was standing knee-deep in one of the Orlando park’s pools Wednesday when killer whale Tilikum leaped out of the tank, grabbed hold of her ponytail and dragged her underwater.
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Her cause of death was likely drowning and “multiple traumatic injuries,” according to a report released by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Atchison told reporters that SeaWorld and Brancheau’s family are in the process of establishing The Dawn Brancheau Memorial Foundation to support the trainer’s favorite causes.
“This has been an extraordinarily difficult time,” Atchison said. “I knew Dawn very, very well.”
The tragedy occurred at 2 p.m. during a post-show event at Shamu Stadium as about two dozen horrified visitors watched. Witnesses reported seeing the 12,000-lbs. whale thrashing Brancheau around in the water and carrying her in his mouth.
“I wouldn’t begin to speculate what he was thinking,” Atchison said in response to a reporter’s question about the whale’s state of mind when he lunged at Brancheau. “It’s too premature to guess what happened.”
Brancheau’s family has said she loved her job and was well aware of its dangers. The first show on Saturday will be at 11 a.m., Atchison said.