SeaWorld Restarts Killer Whale Show, Tillikum Won't Be Punished

Orcas go back to work, but trainers won't swim with them following deadly attack

Feb. 26, 2010— -- SeaWorld will resume killer whale shows Saturday, three days after the show's largest orca dragged a trainer underwater and killed her, the park's president said today.

Tillikum, the 12,000 pound whale that grabbed trainer Dawn Brancheau by her ponytail and held her underwater, will continue to be involved in SeaWorld shows and will not be "subject to punishment in any form," said Jim Atchinson, president of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.

Atchinson said SeaWorld had video of the attack, but would not describe details of the incident or wounds that Brancheau may have suffered.

He confirmed that Brancheau had been grabbed by her long ponytail, but would not say if her hair length or her interactions with the animal in the moments before her death violated park protocols.

He said trainers will not be permitted to swim with the animals until an independent review of Brancheau's death is completed.

Former trainers have said Brancheau likely broke protocol by putting her face so close to that of the whale and letting her hair brush the whale's face.

"He pulled her in by the ponytail," Thad Lacinak, former head trainer at SeaWorld and Brancheau's teacher, told "Good Morning America." "I'm pretty sure it was her breaking protocol. ... Sometimes we get too comfortable working with these animals. Sometimes we forget what they are."

Despite being connected to the deaths of two other people -- a Canadian trainer in 1991 and a man who snuck into SeaWorld in 1999 -- Atchinson said there is no intention to euthanize Tillikum and each of the three deaths were unrelated, isolated incidents.

"The events surrounding those other incidents that Tillikum was involved with are quite varied," he told reporters in Orlando. "Those incidents and the nature of them had nothing to do with this event… they were a very different circumstance and events."

Atchinson said the 22-foot whale, the largest of the company's 25 orcas, will continue to be displayed and appear in shows.

Special Rules for Handling Killer Whale Tillikum.

"Tillikum," he said, "will remain an active part of the team despite what happened."

The whale, he said, had not been isolated and continues to socialize with other killer whales and trainers.

"Tillikum is an important part of our overall team here. Tillikum is not separated in any fashion and remains part of the social network of the facility," he said.

Tillikum, he said, is the only animal for which the Orlando park had a special set of protocols for which trainers had to follow, Atchinson said.

Trainers were not permitted to enter the water with Tillikum. Some reports of Brancheau's death, however, indicate she may have been standing in a shallow area of the whale's tank prior to the attack.

Saturday's killer whale show will include a video tribute to Brancheau, 40, who Atchinson described as one of the parks most skilled trainers.

Atchinson said SeaWorld and Brancheau's family would establish a memorial foundation that would "support causes she was passionate about."

SeaWorld has hired a team of marine life experts from some of the country's largest aquariums and the U.S. Navy to investigate Brancheau's death.

Killer whale shows at the company's other parks in San Diego and San Antonio will also resume tomorrow and trainers will not be permitted in the water there either.

Atchinson delivered his marks to the press standing in front of large window looking into the Orlando park's killer whale tank. Tillikum, however, was not in the tank with several other orca.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events