SeaWorld Tragedy Claims Orca Trainer

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Tilikum the Orca killer whale pictureGerard Julien, AFP / Getty Images

A tragedy that claimed the life of one of SeaWorld Orlando's animal trainers Wednesday has shut down the popular "Believe" shows and "Dine with Shamu" experiences at all SeaWorld locations indefinitely.

According to details released by SeaWorld to CNN, Dawn Brancheau, 40, had just completed a session with killer whale Tilikum in front of a crowd at the Orlando theme park. Although she was standing outside the pool, Brancheau's long blonde ponytail was in reach of the whale, who grabbed it in his mouth and pulled her underwater.

Cited as one of the park's "most experienced animal trainers" in a letter posted by SeaWorld CEO Jim Atchison on the company Web site, Brancheau had always dreamed of working at SeaWorld, In an interview with Brancheau's mother, the New York Daily News reports that the trainer had fallen in love with killer whales 29 years before on a family vacation at SeaWorld and said "I wanna be a Shamu trainer." She'd worked at SeaWorld since 1994, with the orcas since 1996, putting on frequent shows for the public.

Tragedies like these make it clear that although theme parks are an amazing way for us to interact with and better appreciate these fascinating animals, there are serious dangers and concerns about keeping wild animals in captivity.

Brancheau's death is still under investigation, although park officials have confirmed she was held under water for an "extended period of time," and witnesses told CNN affiliates they saw Tilikum violently shaking the trainer's body, forcing her shoe to fly off.

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