Whales perform for first time since trainer was killed

ORLANDO, Fla. -- More than 2,000 people watched killer whales perform Saturday at SeaWorld for the first time since one of the orcas dragged a trainer to her death underwater in front of horrified spectators three days ago.

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. At one point, a young girl was brought on stage and given a whale tail necklace.

''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.''

A spokesman for SeaWorld in Orlando said 2,200 people watched the show at 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 around ''Shamu'' -- the stage name given to all the performing orcas.

Several SeaWorld employees wept as a photo montage was shown in memory of their co-worker, Dawn Brancheau, the 40-year-old veteran trainer who was rubbing the 22-foot, 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum when he pulled her into the water Wednesday. Two more shows were scheduled for the day.

''It was very moving,'' said Molly Geislinger, 33, who came from Minneapolis with her husband and 21-month-old child. She said they had been looking forward to seeing how SeaWorld would honor Brancheau.

However, she noticed a difference in how the trainers acted.

''They looked like they were being very careful,'' she said. ''They looked very cautious today.''

The trainers weren't allowed in the water, meaning the whales' handlers weren't surfing on top of the marine mammals or tossed into the air.