The Full Story: On Feb. 24, an orca known as Tilikum pulled 40-year-old trainer Dawn Brancheau into his tank while she was patting him and feeding him fish. Tilikum grabbed hold of Brancheau with his jaws, thrashed her around and dragged her underwater repeatedly, for half an hour, eventually causing her death in front of horrified SeaWorld guests and employees. The tragedy caused a media sensation, and serious questions arose over whether Tilikum -- and killer whales in general -- should be held in captivity. This was not the first time Tilikum had been involved with a human death. He displayed similar behavior in 1991, killing a trainer at Sealand aquarium in Vancouver, Canada. More bizarre, in 1999, a homeless man who broke into SeaWorld was found dead, draped over Tilikum's back. Why Tilikum chose to attack Dawn was also debated. Brancheau's fellow trainers speculated that something about the way Brancheau's ponytail moved set off the 6-ton orca. Others thought he was simply playing rough. Killer whales don't usually attack humans, even though they are one of the ocean's greatest predators, but many blamed Brancheau's death on Tilikum's basic instincts. Regardless, SeaWorld took the precaution of isolating Tilikum and suspended shows for several days.
What's Happened Since? SeaWorld has taken new precautions to ensure the safety of its trainers, including not allowing them in the tank and avoiding direct contact with killer whales. Nevertheless, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined SeaWorld for its role in Brancheau's death, issuing to the park a "willful" (its most severe) citation for "exposing [its] employees to struck-by and drowning hazards when interacting with killer whales," as well as for two lesser violations, according to the Los Angeles Times. After Brancheau's death, the "Believe" show -- the program in which Tilikum starred -- was canceled permanently. SeaWorld announced in November that it would unveil a new, as yet unnamed show next spring.
In Its Own Words (More or Less): SeaWorld's curator of zoological operations, Chuck Tompkins, said in the marine mammal's defense, "I truly believe he looked at Dawn as an object, a toy."
Video: Tilikum misbehaving seconds before attack | CBS News coverage of the incident
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