Horror death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau mauled by ‘psychotic’ orca Tilikum who broke her spine & tore off scalp

Horror death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau mauled by ‘psychotic’ orca Tilikum who broke her spine & tore off scalp

DAWN Brancheau always dreamed of working at SeaWorld – but it was a job that would eventually kill her when she was attacked by an orca.

Exactly 14 years ago today, the beloved trainer was dragged into the water by the 12,500lb sea creature, Tilikum.

Barcroft MediaDawn Brancheau died on February 24, 2010, doing what she loved[/caption]

Splash NewsShe was the poster girl for SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida[/caption]

GettyDawn was an experienced marine life trainer and known to be safety-focused[/caption]

AP:Associated PressTilikum killed three times before he died in 2017[/caption]

He had already killed two other people in separate incidents before the volatile creature turned on Dawn.

As the “Dine with Shamu” show ended – where guests could have dinner while watching an orca performance – the beast snapped.

He grabbed hold of Dawn, 40, by her ponytail and dragged her into the water – and what followed was a 45-minute-long attack.

Her list of injuries was horrific – having her spinal cord severed and being essentially scalped.

Dawn’s arm was wrenched from its socket, and her hair and scalp were found at the bottom of the pool, having been ripped off by Tilikum.

She also had damaged ribs and a broken jaw.

Doctors determined she died of drowning and blunt force trauma.

Dawn’s death stunned the world as she was seen as the poster girl for Sea World in Orlando, Florida.

Tilikum the orca had a strong bond with Dawn, as the pair worked countless shows together.

The killer whale had spent more than 30 years in captivity and was one of the biggest orcas living at SeaWorld at 22.5 feet.

But no SeaWorld trainer, including Dawn, ever swam in the water with Tilikum.

And that was for good reason, as he had killed twice before.

In 1991, trainer Keltie Byrne became Tilikum’s first victim.

She drowned after falling into the pool with Tilikum and two other orcas at SeaLand of the Pacific in British Columbia, Canada.

SeaLand was closed and Tilikum was put up for sale shortly after her death.

Daniel Dukes was also killed by the orca after he was bought by SeaWorld.

Daniel was found dead in Tilikum’s pool at the Orlando park in 1999.

The circumstances of his death remain unclear, but it’s believed he entered the park after hours and climbed into the tank.

Dawn was with Tilikum on the poolside during an enrichment exercise on February 24, 2010.

She had gotten out of the water and was lying with her face on the edge, chatting with the orca, who had always treated her as a trusted friend.

Tilikum then suddenly dragged Dawn into the water by her ponytail in front of the dozens of families who were now watching a horror show.

One witness detailed the terrifying moment the orca swam past the viewing window with the dead trainer in his mouth.

In a statement to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Susanne De Wit said: “They told us he was playing with the trainer.

“Suddenly, I saw Shamu grabbing the trainer by the shoulder and pulling her down in the water near the window.

“It did not look normal. It was scary. He was very wild with the trainer still in the whale’s mouth. The whale’s tail was very wild in the water.

“The tour guide pulled us out and there was a full alarm. We then saw them throw a net into the water.”

Some experts have since speculated that the highly intelligent animal may have been driven mad in the confines of captivity – and the tragedy put a new focus on animal welfare at the park.

Others however suggested he was attracted to Dawn’s long ponytail and was being “curious”.

There’s also speculation that Tilikum had grown frustrated because he wasn’t rewarded for tricks he had been correctly completing.

John Hargrove, a former senior trainer at SeaWorld, said: “We’ll never know why Tilikum made that choice to grab Dawn and pull her into the pool.

“He had a great relationship with her and she had a great relationship with him. I do believe that he lived her and I know that she loved him.”

After Dawn’s death, Tilikum spent the rest of his days in a pool which was rarely seen by the public until he died in 2017.

Regarded as one of the world’s top killer whale trainers, Dawn wasn’t unaware of the dangers of her job as she worked at SeaWorld for 15 years.

And four years before her tragic death, she spoke out about the perils of swimming with orcas.

Now 14 years after her death, the family of Dawn Brancheau will never forget the day she died as they are still trying to process the painful loss.

For Dawn’s sister Debbie, it is not the way she died that she should be remembered for – but rather for the incredible woman she was.

Orlando SentinnelDawn worked at her dream job in SeaWorld for 15 years[/caption]

SuppliedShe was remembered for her beaming smile[/caption]

‘A woman who embraced life’

The tragedy meant one man’s adored wife was never coming home and her mum would never see her beloved daughter again.

Dawn’s community lost a fine leader and five grieving siblings didn’t get to say goodbye to their youngest sister.

Debbie previously told The Sun Online: “From the moment Dawn began performing with the whales, she reached a new level of happiness.

“Seeing her interact with the whales during a show was like watching a well-choreographed dance.

“Her athleticism was phenomenal and her smile was so genuine. There was no doubting how much she loved what she did.”

She added: “Dawn radiated joy and truly wanted to make the world a better place.

“She was a woman who embraced life and made the most of experience.

“She made each and every person she met feel special and enriched so many lives with her kind and loving acts.”

Family and friends who knew Dawn say her welcoming nature and genuine kind-heart brought joy to everyone who came in her path.

Born to parents Charles and Marion LoVerde, Dawn was the youngest of six children, nicknamed “little caboose” by her dad.

She grew up under the watchful eye of her older siblings, often found in-tow wherever they went.

Dawn loved her sports and was a natural at volleyball, basketball and softball.

She was a passionate cheerleader and dancer with a natural athleticism that was enhanced by long-distance runner and golf.

Throughout her life she competed in the Walt Disney World Marathon, the San Diego Marathon, the Charlottesville Marathon and America Chicago Marathon.

But above all, she loved being in the water, spending as much time as she could in the lake and the neighbourhood pool in Cedar Lake, Indiana.

Marine biology student Keltie Byrne was killed by Tilikum in 1999

Fox NewsDaniel Dukes was Tilikum’s first victim[/caption]

Blackfish & the controversial SeaWorld

The controversy surrounding Tilikum and other captive orcas has led to significant public scrutiny of SeaWorld’s practices and the ethics of keeping marine mammals in captivity for entertainment purposes.

The deaths of Keltie, David and Dawn also sparked significant public debate and raised questions about the conditions and practices within marine parks.

Following Dawn’s death in 2010, SeaWorld conducted internal reviews of their safety protocols and made adjustments to their training procedures.

However, the marine park has defended its practices of keeping orcas in captivity, stating that their facilities provide valuable opportunities for education, research, and conservation efforts.

Six years after Dawn’s death, SeaWorld announced it would end its practice of breeding orcas in captivity.

It has since been working with the Humane Society of the United States to campaign against commercial whaling and seal hunts.

SeaWorld also campaigns against shark finning and ocean pollution.

When Dawn saw the Shamu show at SeaWorld Ohio 1982 aged 13, she was completely drawn in.

Left bewildered, her family recalls her seeking out the trainers once the performance ended, and asking them about how they ended up there, so she could follow on the same path.

She once wrote to Sea World’s human resources department, asking them for more information on how she could one day secure a job there.

From that day on, whenever someone asked her what career path she would choose as an adult, without hesitation she would say: “I want to work at SeaWorld and train Shamu.”

For her family, it seemed like there wasn’t anything their little sister couldn’t do.

While other girls hosted lavish parties and begged for their first cars for their sweet 16th, Dawn’s family ‘adopted’ a whale in her name instead.

Dawn went from student body president to prom queen in high school before graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree majoring in psychology and minoring in biology.

Dawn’s love for whales began when she saw the Shamu show at SeaWorld Ohio 1982 aged 13

She dreamed of working at the famous sealife park ever since

She rewarded herself by getting her scuba certification with hot pink scuba gear and headed off to Hawaii to study marine life.

Her marine career started at Six Flags Amusement Park in New Jersey performing with sea lions and dolphins before her dream came true in 1994 when she landed a job at SeaWorld in Orlando.

She made a splash from as early as her first interview where she got the best swim results for a female applicant ever seen.

For two years she worked at the Sea Lion and Otter Stadium where she rubbed shoulders the show’s stars – sea lions, otters and walruses – and encouraged her friends and family to visit as much as they could.

Debbie told The Sun Online: “To see joy in Dawn’s eyes as she performed was priceless.”

In 1996 she was moved to Shamu Stadium and the hard work she had been putting in for more than a decade paid off.

This same year she married the love of her life Scott – who she met at SeaWorld in the employee cafeteria.

She rose through the ranks becoming a senior trainer before she was considered “the face of SeaWorld”.

Dawn’s legacy

Dawn’s shocking death made headlines around the world, calling into question the fairness of whales in captivity with much speculation focused on Tilikum’s treatment and life.

But for Dawn’s family, scrutinising the details of event won’t bring her back.

After her death, her family felt strongly about wanting to create a legacy that reflected the life she had led.

The Dawn Brancheau Foundation has today helped tens of thousands kids and animals, supporting community services and initiatives to help others.

Dawn was known to be extremely generous with her time and passionately spent her time with others in mind.

For example, it had been speculated that her accident with Tilikum was caused by her long ponytail drifting into the water.

Dawn had long hair most of her life, but on that day it was exceptionally long because she was growing it for Locks of Love – an organisation that provides hair pieces for children with long term hair loss.

She also volunteered at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, helping orphans in Africa, supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation or often went out of her way to brighten someone else’s day.

Debbie previously told The Sun Online: “Dawn was always striving to make a difference. Dawn is a perfect example of how one experience with the marine world can have a vast impact on a child’s life.

“Through our work, we hope to provide many more children with these educational experiences that give them an appreciation and love for the world we live in, particularly marine life.”

SuppliedThe SeaWorld trainer’s legacy lives on through the work of her family[/caption]

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