SeaWorld Whale that Killed Trainer to Perform Again

The killer whale that killed a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando one year ago is back in the spotlight today, scheduled to perform for the first time since the incident.

Tilikum, the 6-ton killer whale, has not been in any shows since the Feb. 24, 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, when the whale pulled her into the water and drowned her in front of park visitors, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment President Jim Atchison approved Tilikum's return earlier this week and the killer whale is expected to appear today.

The decision to use Tilikum again is unbelievable to some.

"If you had a friend that had a dog that had mauled three people, would you go play with that dog?" said Russ Rector, a former dolphin trainer in Fort Lauderdale who now opposes keeping marine mammals in captivity, reports the newspaper. "These people only care about the show. They never learn."

But Kelly Flaherty Clark, SeaWorld Orlando's animal training curator, said in a statement, "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."

No trainers will be in the water with the whale, a policy in place even before Branchaeu's death, because of his size and violent history. Tiliku is the largest of the SeaWorld's killer whales and had been involved in two human deaths in 1991 and 1999, the first, a trainer at a British Columbia aquarium and the second, a homeless man who sneaked into SeaWorld Orlando's killer-whale complex after hours.

Since last year, no trainers have been in the water with any killer whales at all, but last month SeaWorld announced plans to explore bringing them back for the interaction that guests love. The park has invested millions of dollars on new safety equipment, including rising pool floors that can quickly lift people and whales from the water, underwater vehicles to distract the animals in emergencies and portable oxygen bottles for trainers.

Last summer, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration accused SeaWorld of recklessly putting trainers in danger by allowing them to interact with the whales without barriers between them.

It fined the company $75,000 and it recommended that trainers never again be exposed to Tilikum. SeaWorld is fighting the fine. Hearings before a federal administrative-law judge are scheduled to begin April 25.

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