|Elizabeth Soule @ DeepSleep/|
Chris Wiewiora on the tragedies of captured orcas @ Etude.
Dawn Brancheau will drown during a clear, sunny afternoon toward the end of the “Believe” orca show at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. It’s Wednesday, February 24, 2010, and the water is cold, even though the high for the day is 70 degrees. Some of the audience finishes a late lunch at Dine with Shamu—a buffet-style restaurant with a viewing window of the whale tank. The diners who have finished their meals are starting on the assorted cookie platter. In the stadium are children holding onto their parents while dripping orca-shaped, black and white, ice cream Shamu bars on their hands. The families have jackets with them, the sleeves tied around their waists if they are not under the awning’s shade.The surface of the water is slightly choppy with 10 mph winds. A little before 2 p.m., Tilkium (nicknamed Tilly)—a bull and the largest captive whale at SeaWorld—will grab Dawn, a trainer for 14 years, in his mouth and pull her into and then under the water. The autopsy released the next day will report Dawn died from “multiple traumatic injuries and drowning.” Dawn is one of only a few trainers allowed to work with Tilly. During the show, she has been using ice cubes as markers for Tilly, so he knows where he is supposed to surface. On the stage’s poolside deck, Dawn has been shuffling side to side with Tilly mimicking her by doing a sort of dance, while the audience listens to factoids: “Did you know SeaWorld’s killer whales have their teeth brushed everyday? Why? Because dental problems are the single biggest cause of orca fatalities in the wild.”read more