1 killed in whale attack at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium

February 24, 2010 by  
Filed under Trail Boss News

A SeaWorld employee died this afternoon during an incident at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium, an Orange County Sheriff’s Office official confirmed.  SeaWorld, rescue personnel and the Sheriff’s Office are not revealing the identity of the victim, although a local TV station is reporting that it was a female employee who was killed after she was grabbed by one of the theme park’s whales at the start of a public show.  Park guest Victoria Biniak told Local 6 that the trainer was a veteran of SeaWorld and had just finished explaining to the audience what they would see during the performance.

At that point, Biniak said, the whale came up from the water and grabbed the woman.  “He was thrashing her around pretty good. It was violent,’” Biniak told Local 6.  The whale “took off really fast in the tank, and then he came back, shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started thrashing around, and one of her shoes flew off.”

She said sirens went off and everyone was forced to leave the stadium.  Guests were evacuated from the area, and the whale show was cancelled. The park is not shut down. Orange County Fire Rescue personnel arrived on scene within five minutes of receiving a 911 call for an unknown medical condition just prior to 2 p.m., a spokesman said. The woman was dead when rescue officials arrived.

The Sheriff’s Office is on the scene. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration dispatched an investigator from Tampa to investigate, an OSHA spokesman said.  Local 6 is reporting that the whale involved in the incident is named Tillikum, and that whale has been involved in at least one other incident at the park. Tillikum, nicknamed “Tilly,” has a controversial past. The large whale was blamed for the drowning of one of his trainers in 1991 while he was performing at Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia.

Sold to SeaWorld as a stud in 1992, the whale was involved in a second incident when authorities discovered the body of a naked man lying across his back in July 1999. Authorities later concluded the man, who had either snuck into SeaWorld after hours or hidden in the park until it closed, most likely drowned after suffering hypothermia in the 55-degree water.

But they also said it appeared Tillikum had bit the man and tore of his swimming trunks, likely believing he was a toy to play with. SeaWorld has had incidents with its killer whales in the past. In 2005, a trainer was injured by what park officials called an “overly excited” whale that bumped the trainer during a live performance. The injuries were minor.

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