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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

He's so dangerous trainers can't work with him directly... but SeaWorld puts Tilikum the whale who killed his trainer back on show

By Daily Mail Reporter

He's back: Kelly Flaherty-Clark, left, and trainer Joe Sanchez, work with killer whales

He has been involved in the deaths of three people, but today Tilikum the killer whale will resume public performances at SeaWorld.

The six-tonne whale has not appeared in a show at the Orlando marine park since he killed his trainer more than a year ago.

Tilikum is due to appear in an 11.30am performance of 'Believe,' the company's main killer-whale show, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

SeaWorld said that including the whale in shows is important for the animal's health and husbandry.

Tilikum, left and Trua, right, during a training session at SeaWorld in Orlando

'Participating in shows is just a portion of Tilikum's day, but we feel it is an important component of his physical, social and mental enrichment,' Kelly Flaherty-Clark, SeaWorld Orlando's animal training curator, said in a prepared statement.

The 22-foot-long animal, twice as big as any of the Orlando park's other six performing whales and a prolific sire of baby whales in captivity

He dragged Dawn Brancheau, 40, into the pool by her pony tail and then thrashed her while she was in the water, as horrified spectators looked on.

A sheriff's office report said Brancheau was not in the water with Tilikum, but lying on her stomach on a platform submerged in a few inches of water.

She was nose-to-nose with the whale when her long hair floated into the animal's mouth and she was dragged in.

She managed to free herself initially, but the whale continued to strike and thrash her.

It happened shortly after a 'Dine with Shamu' show, and some guests were still in the area.

Killer: The six-tonne whale has not appeared in a show at the Orlando marine park since he killed his trainer more than a year ago

Since then, Brancheau's husband retained a Chicago law firm for a possible wrongful death lawsuit, though one has not been filed. A lawsuit filed by a New Hampshire couple who claimed their 10-year-old son suffered emotional distress from seeing the whale attack is still pending.

The whale was also involved in the death of a trainer at a British Columbia aquarium in 1991 and a homeless man who sneaked into SeaWorld Orlando's killer-whale complex after hours in 1999.

SeaWorld is currently challenging a $75,000 citation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, issued last summer.

It accuses the company of exposing its killer whale trainers to danger without adequate protection.

The agency also recommended that trainers never work directly with Tilikum again.

Flaherty-Clark said SeaWorld would be using the 'same methods in caring for Tilikum that have been in place for more than a year.'

These include placing trainers further away from the killer whale when working with him - they masasge him with high-pressure hoses instead of by hand for example.

They had also put guardrails around pool ledges and devices taht can quickly deploy safety nets in an emergency.

Banned: No trainer is allowed in the water with Tilikum because of his size and dangerous history

SeaWorld said it would be more changes in the coming months. These will include the installation of fast-rising, false-bottom floors in its killer-whale pools.

These floors will be capable of lifting whales and trainers out of the water in less than a minute.

Critics say the company is risking its trainers' lives by continuing to work with the killer whale.

'If you had a friend that had a dog that had mauled three people, would you go play with that dog?' Russ Rector, a former dolphin trainer in Fort Lauderdale who now opposes keeping marine mammals in captivity told the Sentinel.

'These people only care about the show. They never learn.'

Although trainers have not been allowed in the water since Brancheau's death, there are plans for them to return to working with the whales in their pools.

Officials last month said trainers in three of its U.S. marine parks would begin limited 'water work' with killer whales.

However no trainer will be allowed in the water with Tilikum. SeaWorld had banned water work with the animal even before Branchaeu's death because of his size and dangerous history.

The company had started some limited 'water desensitization training' - in which a whale is taught to ignore a human in the water - before the tragedy.

Dead: Tilikum is seen with trainer Dawn Brancheau. The whale dragged her into the pool by her pony tail and then thrashed her while she was in the water, as horrified spectators looked on



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