Autopsy: Trainer Likely Died From Drowning, Trauma

Officials say trainers had to coax an aggressive whale into a smaller pool and use a platform to lift it out of the water before they could free a colleague from its jaws.

The Orange County Medical Examiner says 40-year-old trainer Dawn Brancheau probably died from multiple traumatic injuries and drowning after the killer whale pulled her into a pool at SeaWorld Orlando on Wednesday.

The county sheriff's office says co-workers couldn't immediately help her because the whale was so aggressive after it grabbed her by her pony tail and pulled her in.

The office says an investigation is continuing but there are no signs of foul play and all evidence indicates it was a tragic accident.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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An official says 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau is the trainer killed by a whale at SeaWorld in Orlando.

The law enforcement official with knowledge of the incident spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not been cleared to officially release her identity.

According to a 2006 Orlando Sentinel profile, Brancheau had worked her way into a leadership role at Shamu Stadium after spending more than a decade working with killer whales.

She was inspired by a trip to SeaWorld when she was 9.

Park president Dan Brown would say only that the trainer killed was one of the park's most experienced. She was killed when she slipped or fell into the whale's tank Wednesday afternoon.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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  • by Freak4ink on Feb 26, 2010 at 05:35 AM
    Audra watch free willy again and then come back to reality, the reality of this is the whale has been involved in 3 deaths, putting it back in the wild where it may not be able to defend or feed for itself how long has this thing been in captivity? yet had it been a dog that did this you guys be crying to youthinize it immediately.
  • by Audra Location: SoCal on Feb 26, 2010 at 12:11 AM
    It doesn't matter at all if it was born in captivity. It is still unnatural for it to be in such a small space. It is still a whale. To Freak4ink: "it is a killer whale yet we show it compassion"....? Huh? You do realize we're talking about an animal right? Just because someone stuck the name "killer" on it, doesn't mean it's inherently evil and should be destroyed on sight. It isn't going to creep out of the tank in the middle of the night and prejudicially hunt you down. I also wouldn't be so quick to assume it can't defend itself in nature. Instinct doesn't die that easily, especially in a creature of this sort.
  • by Why? on Feb 25, 2010 at 11:08 PM
    Why on Earth would a whale with a hx of killing people still be used? I AGREE with all postings about it being ridculace to maintain these animals in confined areas, if you want to study them, go study them in their environemnt. They can't even swim correctly b/c of their life in prison. I don't think they'd survive in the wild b/c of us, but that doesn't mean they should live their lives in pools smaller than an Olympic size swimming pool. VERY sad. I do think that the whale needs to be either isolated from ANY future HUMAN contact or euthanized. These are social creatures, daily interactions are very important. Refraining from human contact means that contact will have to be supplemented somehow so that the poor creature has SOMETHING to bond to. I would assume that they could give him a buddy, but how would they separate them and keep all personel safe? Free all zoo animals! Put the money used for their upkeep to maitain their "wild" cousins!
  • by Irate Location: greenville on Feb 25, 2010 at 09:42 PM
    I have to go along with the majority of the posters on this one -this is a huge, highly-intelligent, free-roaming animal that has had it's world reduced to a pool with humans as its main contact. I say let them all go (along with elephants, tigers, and lions) to the vastness of nature. FREE WILLY!!!
  • by dawn on Feb 25, 2010 at 08:20 PM
    Whales are very intelligent do you their was a indirect instinct w/ponytail that caused a paradoxal reaction w/the whale. These animals are very intelligent and she had alot of experience w/this whale. The whale had a hx of killing but details are not given in the media of that. Was it the whale or just instinct...I am sure it was not the intention of the trainer...do we know if the whale had a health problem. It is known that other wild animals reacat this way if they are ill.
  • by Alice Location: NC on Feb 25, 2010 at 07:51 PM
    Set these Whales Free they do not belong in a water zoo.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 25, 2010 at 05:29 PM
    Once again,Stay on dry land where you are at the top of the food chain.If the sea creatures dont get you,water in the lungs will.
  • by Freak4ink on Feb 25, 2010 at 02:37 PM
    This whale has been involved in 3 deaths now!! A pitbull attacks someone and its immediatly put down. you cant let it go it cant defend itself in nature now so we let it live? it is a killer whale yet we show it compassion.
  • by Moderators Nightmare on Feb 25, 2010 at 01:58 PM
    The majority of these animals today were born in captivity. So the confined space is all most of them have ever known, they are still wild animals with wild instincts. The folks that work with them know the risk.
  • by Audra Location: SoCal on Feb 25, 2010 at 01:35 PM
    We used to go to Marineland on the back side of Palos Verdes here in S. CA when I was a kid (they've long since closed). Even as a child, as fascinated as I was by some of the creatures there and watching the shows, I wondered about such large creatures being kept in what is such a relatively small space for them. Killer whales, much like pit bulls, have specific tendancies and personalities. Nothing wrong with that in their natural setting. They may not even have started off with malicious intent when a trainer is harmed, but their understanding as well as communication is going to be according to their own perspective, not ours. It is the nature of a wild animal to have certain triggers for frenzy when it comes to defense and feeding. You can't program it out of them by tossing them fish and rubbing their nose. I feel really sad this woman lost her life. How many more (she's not the first) have to have this happen?
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