Whale show resumes by honoring trainer
Employees wept and audience members grew silent Saturday at SeaWorld as the theme park’s popular killer whale show resumed with a photo montage memorial for a trainer who was killed by one of the orcas in front of horrified spectators three days ago.
The show had been shut down since veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, was killed Wednesday by a 22-foot, 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum. The medical examiner says she probably died of traumatic injuries and drowning.
More than 2,000 people packed the park’s stadium Saturday for the first show since Brancheau’s death.
The audience seemed thrilled, applauding and cheering as the whales zipped around their tank and splashed spectators during the show — with the theme of “believe,” about a young boy who sees an orca and dreams of one day becoming a whale trainer. It was a tribute to Brancheau, whose family said she always wanted work with the giant whales.
“I just wanted to be here for this show. It’s so special,” said Russell Thomphsen, 65, who said he is a season-ticket holder for SeaWorld. “This touches so many lives.”
Spectators packed the enormous outdoor amphitheater despite chilly, rainy weather, with the orca pool registering at 52 degrees. The whale trainers received a standing ovation as they approached the platform before the show, part of the multimillion-dollar enterprise centered on “Shamu” — the stage name given to all the performing orcas.
Several SeaWorld employees cried as the photo montage set to music was shown.
SeaWorld officials have said trainers won’t swim with the orcas until they finish reviewing Brancheau’s death. Tilikum did not perform Saturday.