Death at Seaworld Excerpt

*Trigger Warning, very violent scene and death below*

"Now approved for Level 3 waterwork, Dawn was one of the few people in the park who were given the okay to perform every behavior in the whale’s repertoire, including all the hotdogging stunts such as hydros and rocket hops. Dawn was a star in Orlando. A picture of her, smiling next to a Killer Whale, was part of Seaworld Orlando’s advertising campaign. Dawn was often featured in TV news stories about goings-on at Seaworld and was profiled in Orlando newspapers and magazines as well.

[Discussing Tilikum during the February 24th 2010 Dine With Shamu when Dawn was killed] “Guys, this is the largest male killer whale in any facility around the world,” Jay [trainer] said as Dawn dropped more fish into Tilly’s mouth. “I kid you not. He’s about 12,000 pounds! That’s six tons of fun and love!” The audience chuckled. Dawn gave Tilikum another hand signal, sending the whale into a barrel roll and then straight toward the tables across the pool. 

"There he goes," Jay said. "A big hello for Shamu!" Tilikum rose up in a spyhop right in front of the delighted guests. "Whoa! Shamu!" Jay said. Tilly began screeching like an EMS siren. 

"Of course, one of our main responsibilities is helping them to have fun," Jay continued. "Whales love to have fun!" 

Dawn held up a silvery fish. Tilly nodded as if to say “Yes, please.” Dawn signaled him to raise his left pectoral flipper. He complied. Tilly slammed his big black paddle onto the waters surface with a resounding thwack. 

Dawn gave Tilikum the signal for a “raspberry” (the farting sound Orcas can make with their blowholes). But he offered her only a half-hearted, long exhale instead, which earned him a LRS or three second neutral response. 

The behaviors and banter continued. Next, Dawn sent Tilly to a slide out area for a final pose, and fed him a few more fish.

Dawn walked behind Jay as he continued the narration. “During the course of our interaction today you’ve seen us use the tools of the trade. the whistle, the target, and the bucket of fish. But in reality, the real secret of this relationship-the most important tool we use- is our heart.”

Those were among the last words Dawn would ever hear.

A few minutes later, video footage shows Dawn lying on her stomach in six to eight inches of water, facing Tilikum, an unnatural smile plastered across her face. What happens next remains a huge subject of argumentation and speculation. 

The video switched off at that instant to join the rest of the guests leaving the Dine with Shamu area. Then they heard a splash.

"Hey!" a guest shouted to Jay. "He took her down! He took her down!" According to Suzzanne’s (the guest) account of the event, Jay had not been looking at Dawn. When he turned and saw that she was gone, he rand to the water and started slapping the surface, desperately trying to call Tilly back.

Jan Topoleski sounded the emergency alarm as “Dine with Shamu” staff hurried to usher the remaining guests away from the pool. 

Tilikum pushed Dawn around the pool, rammed her twice head-on, then dragged her to the bottom for several seconds. Somehow, she broke free. She made a desperate swim for the surface. Guests saw her head pop out of the water. She stared into their eyes with a look of panic and a plea for help. 

Tilikum grabbed her again and pulled her under. The guests finally left the area. 

When the alarm went off, Seaworld staff began running toward G pool, leaving behind their own duties with animal training and office work. More than thirty employees descended on the scene. Many began to deploy the emergency netting, while others continued to try and recall Tilikum with water slaps and an underwater tone call- all to no avail. 

Tilikum would not release his trophy. He swam around the pool rapidly with Dawn in his mouth. When he dove again to the pool bottom, her motionless body drifted up to the surface. Tilikum swam to the opposite end of the pool, turned around, and moved toward Dawn again. He gained speed, then rammed her body for a third time. 

It took more than thirty minutes to corral Tilikum-with Dawn’s body in his mouth- out of G pool and into the much smaller medical pool.

Once in the medical pool, the bottom was raised and staff managed to cover Tilikum with a net. The whale grasped Dawn by her arm and shoulder. He thrashed around violently, unwilling to relinquish his prize, causing Dawn’s body to flail around like a doll. Several staff members tried to retrieve her, but he continued to thrash around.

Rescuers spent ten minutes prying Dawn from his jaws. When her body was finally extracted, Tilikum was lowered back into the water. But then someone noticed that part of Dawn’s left arm was still in the whale’s mouth. He had to be raised up again so that the arm could be retrieved. 

Someone else found Dawn’s ponytail and scalp floating in another pool at the stadium complex.

Dawn;s body was laid out on the deck next to the pool. EMS crews on the scene cut away her wet suit and attempted to resuscitate her with a defibrillator. It was no use. Dawn was covered with a sheet to prevent hovering television news helicopters from photographing her body. This heartbreaking image was blasted around the world via satellite. CNN FOX News, and MSNBC went to a split screen mode and, in a corner of the screen, showed a large killer whale floating alone in a small pool sheltered by a canopy. 

Every so often, Tilikum would poke his head over the edge and gaze at Dawn, almost as if to see if she had recovered.”- Death at Seaworld Excerpt, written by David Kirby

Read the Book

Watch Blackfish on Netflix 

Dont buy a ticket to Marine Parks housing captive Orcas and Dolphins.

Spread the word.