One of SeaWorld’s veteran trainers Dawn Brancheau was killed Wednesday after being pulled under water by her trainee, a 12,000 pound Killer whale named Tilikum, at the end of a typical afternoon Shamu Show. Brancheau is said to have died from traumatic injuries and drowining according to investigators.
SeaWorld is one of the nation’s most family friendly amusement parks making the tragic death even more of a shock to the public. Other trainers, including animal expert Jack Hanna, are defending the whale saying that there are certain risks a trainer accepts when working with live animals.
The most disturbing fact of the story, however, is that Tilikum has killed twice before. In 1991 the whale and two fellow female Killer whales drowned a trainer at Sealand of the Pacific in Canada and in 1999 SeaWorld officials found the lifeless body of Daniel Dukes on Tilikum’s back. Dukes’ was the only case not involving a trainer, though, as he was a tourist who snuck into SeaWorld in search of swimming with the whales.
Considering Tilikum’s past history of aggression coupled with SeaWorld’s family friendly image the question becomes what the amusement park will do to resolve this crisis. The only thing saving them from an onslaught of media scrutiny is that the incident happened the same day that the head of Toyota visited congress in an attempt to clean-up his own public relations debacle.
So far, it seems that SeaWorld is taking the right steps in dealing with the public. They’ve been truthful but fairly silent as they figure out the details, have left questions up to investigators and have canceled all Shamu Shows at all three SeaWorld Parks nationwide. The park’s next steps will be most critical, however, in ensuring that the public feels safe enough to return. SeaWorld officials must explain how this tragedy happened and what they are doing to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. What are your thoughts on SeaWorld’s communications crisis and how they’re handling it?