The Killer in the Pool

Last February, when a 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum dragged his SeaWorld trainer into the pool and drowned her, it was the third time the big killer whale had been involved in a death. Many observers wondered why the animal was still working. But some experts, knowing the psychological toll of a life spent in captivity, have posed a darker question: Was it human error, or can a killer whale choose to kill?
  1. To work closely with a killer whale in a marine park requires experience, intuition, athleticism, and a whole lot of dramatic flair. Few people were better at it than top SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who, at 40, was blond, vivacious, and literally the poster girl for the marine park in Orlando, Florida, appearing on billboards around the city. She decided she wanted to work with killer whales at the age of nine, during a family trip to SeaWorld, and loved animals so much that as an adult she used to throw birthday parties for her two chocolate Labs.

    This past February 24, Brancheau was working the Dine with Shamu show, featuring SeaWorld's largest killer whale, a six-ton, 22-foot male known as "Tili" (short for Tilikum). Dine with Shamu takes place in a faux-rock-lined, 1.6-million-gallon pool that has an open-air café wrapped around one side. The families snacking on the lunch buffet that Wednesday were getting an eyeful. Brancheau bounced around on the deck of the pool, wearin...

The complete text of “The Killer in the Pool ” is not in the Byliner library, but we love it so much we included an excerpt and a link to the full story on www.outsideonline.com.

Originally published in Outside, July 2010

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