Killer whale won't be isolated

Photo by Julie Fletcher

Photo by Julie Fletcher

ORLANDO, Fla -- Trainers will continue working with a killer whale that grabbed one of their colleagues and dragged her underwater, killing her, but SeaWorld said Thursday it is reviewing its procedures after the attack.

People lined up to get into the park a day after the whale named Tilikum killed veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau as a horrified audience watched. Tilikum had been involved in two previous deaths, including a Canadian trainer dragged under water by him and two others whales in 1991.

Killer whale shows are suspended indefinitely in Orlando and at the park's San Diego location.

''We have every intention of continuing to interact with this animal, though the procedures for working with him will change,'' SeaWorld said in a post on its blog.

Chuck Tompkins, who is in charge of training at all SeaWorld parks, said Thursday that Tilikum will not be isolated from the Orlando location's seven other whales. Tilikum fathered some of them and will continue mating with others.

''We want him to continue to be part of that social group,'' Tompkins said.

Trainers will review safety procedures and change them as needed, but Tompkins said he doesn't expect the killer whale shows to be much different.

''We're going to make any changes we have to, to make sure this doesn't happen again,'' he said.

Brancheau, 40, was rubbing Tilikum from a poolside platform when the 22-foot, 12,000-pound creature reached up, grabbed her long braid in its mouth and dragged her underwater.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office said Thursday that trainers trying to help her could not get into the water because Tilikum was so aggressive. They had to coax him into a smaller pool and raise him out of the water on a platform before they could free her.

She likely died from multiple traumatic injuries and drowning, the medical examiner's office said.

Horrified visitors who had stuck around after a noontime show watched Tilikum charge through the pool with Brancheau in his jaws.

Tompkins said the whale was lying in front of Brancheau when her braid swung in front of him and he apparently grabbed onto it.

''We like to think we know 99.9 percent of the time what an animal is doing,'' he told The Associated Press on Thursday. ''But this is one of those times we just don't know.''

Kelly Vickery, 24, of Tallahassee was at the noon show Wednesday next to where the attack happened and said the whales seemed to be acting odd, swimming around the tank rapidly. Trainers said the whales ''were having an off day, that they were being ornery,'' she said.

Tompkins disputed that, saying nothing seemed abnormal.

Vickery returned Thursday with her sons so they could see the areas of the park they had missed a day earlier, though she acknowledged being there felt ''weird'' a day after the tragedy.

''But it's an animal, and it's an accident,'' she said.