Killer Whale Returns

Thursday, March 31, 2011 - 8:35am

Tilikum, the orca that killed a Sea World trainer last year, has returned to the show.

The killer whale that attacked and drowned a SeaWorld Orlando trainer returned to Shamu Stadium on Wednesday for the first time since the incident.

Tilikum was the whale responsible for the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau.

He had not performed in any shows since the attack.

SeaWorld announced Tuesday that Tilikum would return to his original role of appearing at the end of each show to splash the crowd.

"To see the whale come back was absolutely fantastic," tourist Sean Reeder said.

SeaWorld Animal Training Curator Kelly Flaherty-Clark said performing is important to the killer whale's health.

"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," Flaherty-Clark said.

Trainers have not been allowed in the water with any of the whales since Brancheau's death, but the theme park said it continues to make safety improvements, and it's possible trainers will return to the water in the future.

"He has been regularly interacting with his trainers and the other whales for purposes of training, exercise and social and mental stimulation, and has enjoyed access to all of the pools in the Shamu Stadium complex," Flaherty-Clark said.

OSHA investigators recommended trainers not be allowed near Tilikum without a physical barrier.

The theme park has made several changes to Shamu Stadium in the wake of the fatal attack, including adding barriers.

SeaWorld said it may also invest in an underwater distraction device that would have lights and emit sound to attract a killer whale if one were to grab a trainer and drag them under.

Thousands of fans packed into Shamu Stadium to catch Tilikum's return Wednesday.

When asked about Tilikum's history of involvement in the deaths of three people, most fans said they didn't think that means he should be banned from performing.

"They're wild animals, so things like that might happen, so I'm totally OK with it," tourist Shelly Hale said. "I'm glad we were here for his first show back."

SeaWorld was fined $75,000 following Brancheau's death.

OSHA said SeaWorld trainers had "an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales."

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