ORLANDO, Fla. – A 12,300-pound Orca (killer whale) killed a female marine animal trainer in the Sea World Orlando Shamu Stadium on February 24th. The tragedy occurred during the Wednesday afternoon Shamu Show at the Florida theme park. The late Orca trainer’s name has not been released.
The 40-year-old Sea World employee was speaking to the live audience, introducing the whale (a 30-year-old Orca bull, or male, named Tillikum) when the incident occurred.
The audience in Shamu Stadium watched in horror, as the killer whale seized the trainer by her waist and tossed her back and forth in the pool, dragging her deep underwater. Witnesses were not sure whether the woman, an experienced Orca trainer, had slipped into the pool or if the giant whale actually grabbed her off the deck and pulled her into the water.
By the time rescuers were able to retrieve the body of the female marine trainer from the water, she had already drowned. Emergency medical staffers were unable to revive the woman.
Apparently, the very same killer whale has been connected to at least two other deaths at other marine locations (in 1991 and in 1999), although these incidents were regarded as accidents.
According to Sea World marine experts, killer whales, or Orcas, can be extremely social and playful, but they may have trouble differentiating between trainers and toys, or between people and playthings.
Tillikum, one of eight killer whales at Sea World Orlando, has lived at the Florida theme park for eight years.
The titanic Tillikum is the star Orca, or killer whale, in the “Believe” show, currently running at Sea World’s Shamu Stadium in the Orlando theme park. (Sea World trainers and performers urge live audiences to chant, “Shamu,” during the Orca shows, although no actual killer whale at Sea World bears that name.)
Although Tillikum (nicknamed Tilly) has not been labeled as aggressive, Sea World employees had been instructed not to enter the tank with the giant sea creature. The Orca’s sheer size makes him hazardous. Tillikum is the largest killer whale in captivity.
After the tragic incident on February 24th, Sea World security employees immediately evacuated the Shamu Stadium and closed the Orlando marine theme park. Killer whale shows at all Sea World locations (Orlando, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; and San Diego, California) have been suspended indefinitely.
Officials are treating the Sea World marine animal trainer’s death in Orlando as a tragic accidental incident, although an investigation is ongoing. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is joining local law enforcement officers (including forensic experts, homicide detectives and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office) to examine the incident.