Orca That Killed Orlando Sea World Trainer Had Killed Before

Details are just beginning to surface about the tragic events at Orlando Sea World in which Tilikum, a 30 year old, 12,000 pound bull Orca, killed Dawn Brancheau, 40, a trainer at the facility. Although Sea World officials initially made statements that it was an “accidental drowning involving an orca”, detailed eyewitness descriptions suggest a more violent event, and the history of the particular whale includes previous deaths that call into question why Tilikum was not considered potentially dangerous by Sea World.

According to witnesses, Brancheau was standing on a platform near the large orca tank and had been explaining the show that was about to begin. Tilikum swam up next to her, turned on his back, and she rubbed his belly while explaining that the while was quite fond of this behavior. Witness Victoria Biniak saw the event from the viewing area and gave this description. Witness Victoria Biniak said she saw the deadly incident from a viewing area. “The trainer was explaining different things about the whale and then the trainer that was down there walked away from the window. Then Telly (the whale) took off really fast in the tank and he came back, shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started thrashing (her) around,” Biniak said. “He was thrashing her around pretty good. It was violent.”

Spectators were forced to leave the area immediately amidst clanging sirens and an “all hands on deck” response from all Sea World Orlando employees. However, when paramedics arrived, Brancheau was still in the tank and, upon being retrieved, was pronounced dead.

Tilikum was one of three whales blamed for killing a trainer in 1991 at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia.
A man’s body was also found draped over Tilikum at Orlando SeaWorld in July 1999. Daniel Dukes reportedly made his way past security at SeaWorld and either jumped, fell or was pulled into the frigid water of Tilikum’s huge tank. An autopsy ruled that he died of hypothermia, but authorities said it appeared Tilikum bit the man and tore off his swimming trunks. In 1999, a 27-year-old South Carolina man somehow entered a whale tank at SeaWorld Orlando after park hours and drowned. Daniel Dukes, who was carrying false identification, was found dead with a bite below his waist, according to autopsy results. He was bitten by Tilikum.

(I will update this was more info becomes available. As many of you know, I’ve been involved in underwater work with dolphins when I directed Eye of the Dolphin and Beneath the Blue, and have become friends with many trainers as well as with many on the opposite side of the captivity issue. This is a tragic incident which calls into mind larger questions concerning the handling of marine mammals in dolphinariums and facilities like the one where this happened.)

~ by Michael Sellers on February 24, 2010.

5 Responses to “Orca That Killed Orlando Sea World Trainer Had Killed Before”

  1. I’m pretty sure that you would all see Tili’s point of view have the truth about the incident with Daniel Dukes had been released to the news. Think about 3 points.

    1. There WERE no “swim trunks”. Don’t assume. Mr. Dukes got into the tank naked intentionally.
    2. A whale has the ability to open and close a blow hole at will. That is how they breathe, and stop from drowning when they submerge.
    3. A law suit impending, filed by Mr. Duke’s parents was suddenly dropped.
    4. How was Mr. Dukes still attached to Tili’s back when he was found?

    If you still can’t figure it out…the Sunshine State Laws allow you to get a police report.

    If you have figured it out, I’m certain if you were Tili…you would have closed your blowhole and submerged too.

    • Not sure I completely follow you, Abby, but I’m glad you bring up the Daniel Dukes incident because it’s worth looking deeper into this. Thus far the most revealing account I’ve found is on a gamesite called “Kotaku”. Here’s what it says. Welcome your further comments.

      The killer whale that apparently killed a trainer today in front of a horrified SeaWorld audience was also connected to the death in 1999 of a drifter so obsessed with Ultima Online that he once wandered into Richard Garriott’s home. Daniel Dukes, 27, the son of Columbia, S.C., real estate brokers, drifted into Austin, Texas in the late 90s, compiling an impressive arrest record. The Austin America-Statesman reported at the time that the crimes included “stealing a Barbie doll, briefcase and women’s camisole from a Target store; clocking a fellow patron in the head at Joe’s Generic Blues Bar; and breaking into a home where he was discovered resting in a downstairs bedroom.”

      But the crime that finally pushed him out of the city and towards his eventual death in Florida, was the strangest of all. During an interview years ago, Garriott, creator of popular computer role-playing game Ultima, told me that it was Dukes who broke into his castle-like home in Austin in the late 90s. It’s a story he tells with the ease of someone one who’s told and retold the tale countless times. Garriott says that the man, who he described as an obsessed Ultima fan, slipped into his fenced property, smashed out a glass door with a rock and headed to the stairs to his bedroom. Frightened, Garriott says he pulled out a gun and told the man to stop. When Dukes didn’t, he fired off a warning shot leaving a bullet hole in the wall. Ignoring the shot, the man walked up to Garriott’s bedroom, stripped and got into bed. That’s where police found him when they responded to Garriott’s 911 call.

      Eventually, Dukes found his way to Florida, hanging out in the Coconut Grove Hare Krishna Temple. On July 6, 1999, Dukes’ body was discovered draped across the back of Tillikum, the same killer whale who police say killed a trainer today and who in 1991 was blamed for the drowning of one of his trainers in Victoria, British Columbia, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Garriott was traveling today and couldn’t be reached for comment, but in our conversations from a decade ago the game designer speculated that Dukes might have gotten lost in the fantasy world of Ultima that Garriott created and that his journey around the country, and to that killer whale, were part of that fantasy. The original Ultima games included a virtue system that drew from both chivalry and Buddhism.

  2. orcas, or more commonly known as killer whales are not meant to be kept in huge tanks. they are wild animals, even if you train them, even if they seem tame, they are still wild animals and wild animals do what all wild animals do. when they seem somthing that looks like food, or they see something and deem it as a threat, then, yes, they attack. its a natural instict.
    so sea world shouldn’t shun the incident, and say things to avoid what happened. they should take measures. if the whale is so dangerous than place it in a tank where no one can access except a few people and take up some safety measure.
    i feel sorry for the trainer, who probably loved the whale but got killed in such a fashion.
    my condelences to the family.

  3. Well written. 🙂

    • Thanks. I’m pretty pissed off about this whole situation but trying to keep from making judgments too quickly. I think it is pretty obvious, though, that this was an “accident” waiting to happen and Sea World just couldn’t figure out how to deal with Telikim — and now they’re trying to cover it up by making statements that he just grabbed her pony tail and this and that when witnesses saw something very different. And I’m sure there are dozens if not hundreds of home movie cams that were filming when it happened so it’ll come out. The fact that Telikim had killed two people previously was obviously a problem, and they were dealing with it by keeping him isolated (!) from the other Orcas — a practice which, while it might keep an older bull like him from being aggressive with the other Orcas, is also pretty sure to make him cranky and aggressive in general. Anyway, a lot more is coming out about it and it will hopefully lead to some useful discussion about Orca captivity.

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