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Orlando SeaWorld Whale Attack: Third Kill by Tilikum?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

Sources say that the whale in Wednesday's attack at Orlando SeaWorld has been responsible for deaths before. Dawn Brancheau, 40, was killed when the killer whale she worked with dragged her into the water and began thrashing her around. 

Eyewitness accounts were unclear about whether she slipped into the water or whether she was dragged in by the whale. 

Tilikum, the 12,000-pound killer whale that was responsible for Wednesday's fatal accident, was reportedly known to be dangerous by Orlando SeaWorld staff. 

In 1999, the half-naked body of a man was found draped over the whale at Orlando SeaWorld after normal park hours. The man, it turned out, had snuck in to the park to swim with the whales. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the park but subsequently withdrew it. 

In 1991, Tilikum and two female orcas were also responsible for the death of a female trainer in Vancouver, according to CBS News

If park officials knew that Tilikum was a dangerous animal, then did they owe a heightened duty of care to park visitors and to trainers?  Foreseeability is one of the most fundamental concepts in tort law and a fatal accident which was caused by the failure of the park to protect against a foreseeable event could raise issues of tremendous liability for the park.

The whale was known to be dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that less than half of the park's trainers were even allowed to work with her. Dawn Brancheau, however, was a veteran trainer and one of the few who was allowed to work with the whale.

The death also raises questions of animal rights. Animal rights activists are blaming the stress of captivity as the reason these whales may misbehave. 

Whatever the reason for the Orlando SeaWorld whale attack on Wednesday, there will certainly be an investigation into the theme-park's fault in the fatal accident. Perhaps, the findings of the investigation will yield guidelines for safer practices by zoos and animal parks.  Or perhaps, the findings will shed some light on animal rights and the dangers of captivity.  Regardless, SeaWorld fans will be hearing much more about this incident in its aftermath.

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