Staff and visitor testimonies reveal exactly how Tilikum, the 22-foot, 20,000lb SeaWorld killer whale, attacked trainer Dawn Brancheau last week (she died of "multiple traumatic injuries and drowning"). And it's precisely as scary as you might expect.
According to this AP report, it was an average day at SeaWorld. About 20 tourists were milling around after the noon show. Some, including Dutch visitor Susanne De Wit, 33, had gathered in front of one of the tank windows for a picture.
Above them, Brancheau lay down on the deck to communicate with Tilikum face-to-face, as she had done thousands of times before, according to staffer Jan Topoleski, who monitors trainers' safety during shows. The whale, the largest in captivity, closed his enormous teeth on her hair and dragged her underwater. De Wit, in front of the tank window, saw the attack unfold. "He was very wild," she told investigators, "with the trainer still in the whale's mouth, the whale's tail was very wild in the water."
Alarms sounded, and staff members rushed to help. Recollections of time vary. Some say it took them ten minutes to find plastic nets, unfurl them, trap the whale and hoist it from the water using a hydraulic lift. Others say it may have been 30. "The whale would not let us have her," trainer Jodie Ann Tintle said. At one point Tilikum did let go of Brancheau, said another employee, Tanner Grogan, but grabbed her by the foot again before anyone had a chance to react.
Even when out of the water, the whale kept its jaws clamped shut around its prize. The team had to pry its mouth open to recover their colleague, who was pronounced dead immediately by paramedics. "Tilly was not giving up Dawn," Robin Ann Morland, another SeaWorld worker, told the AP.
In short: do not fuck with Killer Whales.