Killer Whale Attack: 'The Cove' star calls for federal investigation of SeaWorld

There’s an eerily timely connection between the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, who was killed Wednesday by the killer whale she was training, and the documentary The Cove, which is the frontrunner to win the Oscar for best documentary feature next Sunday, March 7.  The documentary is about dolphins that are slaughtered by fishermen outside a town in Japan after they are rejected by aquatic theme park operators looking for the next dolphin star. The film’s main subject, Ric O’ Barry, trained the famous dolphin Flipper, but has since dedicated his life to freeing dolphins and other sea mammals from theme parks. Today, O’ Barry and David Phillips, of the Earth Island Institute, released a statement about Brancheau’s death, and called for a federal investigation into SeaWorld’s actions surrounding the tragedy.

“It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Dawn Brancheau, who by all accounts was a loving and talented caretaker for Tilikum (Tilly), the killer whale who took her life at SeaWorld Orlando just days ago,” the said in a statement. “Along with sadness of this tragic event we can’t help feeling anger toward those who insist upon exhibiting these wild creatures in habitats that can drive them to violence. Dependent on sonar/sound to navigate their vast ocean homes, dolphins and whales are in constant state of distress living in cramped pools, bombarded by noise, stressed by food deprivation and forced to perform.

“We understand the love these trainers must feel for the orcas they train, but make no mistake – this wasn’t just a terrible accident, it was a calculated risk on the part of a billion dollar captive dolphin and whale industry.  Facts suggest that SeaWorld was well aware of Tilicum’s deadly attack on trainers.

“SeaWorld allowed public and trainer contact with an orca that was a known risk, and after 3 deaths they’re suggesting that it actually continue.  SeaWorld has been admonished in the past by an official with the US National Marine Fisheries Service for failure to take prudent and precautionary steps with Tilicum’s health and welfare.

“The latest claims that Tilicum was distracted by the trainer’s ponytail are absurd and force us to infer that SeaWorld is guilty of negligence and that it is now trying to cover up repeated deadly orca attacks by resorting to outrageous and disingenuous claims.

“We believe this situation warrants the immediate initiation of a federal investigation into SeaWorld’s possible negligence and violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.Further information suggests that SeaWorld has covered up additional acts of orca attacks in order to protect its multi-million dollar investment in these creatures and the millions more they make on the backs of their performances.

“Finally, we find their claims about conservation and education shallow. If these shows are meant to encourage people to help save these precious creatures then why aren’t they doing more to end the brutal slaughter of thousands and thousands of dolphins and whales off the coast of Japan, Norway and the Southern Seas. Instead, they turn a blind eye, when they could dedicate significant resources to stopping it.

“Overall, we believe the conduct of SeaWorld in this matter is reprehensible.  SeaWorld’s actions are a gross threat to dolphins, whales, and people and should not be allowed to stand.These animals belong in the wild.”

A phone call to SeaWorld’s Orlando, Florida, press office went directly to voice mail. A call to SeaWorld’s security office said the press office was closed for the weekend and the only way to reach the press office was via email. An email to SeaWorld seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Comments (122 total) Add your comment
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  • Pati

    Funny, but O’Barry had no problem training dolphins when he was making the big bucks. Give it up…this was a tragic ACCIDENT…Dawn knew the danger, but she lived her life doing what she loved.

    • Brenda Barrett

      Pati – You are an idiot. These animals belong in the ocean, FREE.

      • Lucy

        Brenda- You are rude. Show some respect for others, even if you disagree with their opinion. (PS- I agree with you, but you are still really rude.)

      • notsaying

        no brenda she is not she is completly rite! they mite belong in the wild but most of them DO NOT NO the wild so its rlly rude for you to be saying stuff like tht!

      • @notsaying

        Whatever point you are trying to make is completely unrecognizeable due to your lack of spelling and punctuation. But what I was able to understand is still extremely ridiculous. Yes, some animals do not know how to live in the wild anymore, but that is obviously our own fault for making them reliant on us. Since we caused the problem, we should be the ones to fix it. Maybe seaworld does donate to help protect animals, but I bet it is just for positive press. So if there’s ever a problem like this, they can say “but look what we’re doing to help the animals” and go back to counting their money.

      • The Original Nshi

        FREE WILLY!!!!!!

      • Lance

        After reading all your posts, notsaying is the biggest tool here. You’re gonna have to reread the article two more times to get it. I know, some people are slow and takes a lot longer to catch up to us smart people that get it right away. And Lucy? Go suck a lemon.

    • Rae

      Dear Pati…
      Watch The Cove and you’ll understand that O’Barry’s biggest regret in life was training dolphins for Flipper and almost all of his money has gone into saving and releasing captive dolphins back to the wild. Please, don’t comment on things you know nothing about.

      • Lily

        Thank you, Ray. For the record I HATE sea parks and zoos. I’ve always been deeply affected by what Jacques Couteau said:”There is about as much educational 
benefit to be gained in studying dolphins in captivity, as there would be 
studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary confinement.” Totally agree. I say free all dolphins, whales, EVERY animal in captivity. If you want your child to see a dolphin, pop in a DVD or go to the beach.

      • Crystal

        Dear lily:
        if a dolfin was never in captiveity they would noy have been able to make the DVDs your talking about, just saying..
        but i do think that animals should be free, this this prolly would never have happend

    • Bob Loblaw

      O’Barry’s work (and later regret) with the Flipper show is covered extensively in The Cove. Pati, you are right, the irony is evident. But watch the documentary, and you will understand how and why O’Barry’s position has changed. It’s that type of change in perspective that the movie is aimed at.

    • Kat

      Rae is correct. Pati, don’t spout off accusations unless you have done your research. Does your paycheck come from Seaworld?

    • Aidz

      He was young and naive of what the outcome would be, and thats exactly why hes doing everything he can to stop this brutal use of marine mammals as money makers. He could easily be making millions by owning his own dolphinarium.

    • Gina

      To all of you who are pro-sea world. I’d like to put you in dunk tank that is also your toilet and bath water and make you work all day in a carnival and sleep in it by night. And for dinner you get to eat live fish.

      This is basically what you advocate for Tilly who likes dead fish just as much as you would live ones. The only reason he eats them is because they would otherwise starve him to death.

    • Gina

      Obviously Pati, you haven’t seen the documentary so why you are even commenting on this and making a fool of yourself I don’t know.

  • Anita Kazee

    Absolutely, let these wonderful animals live where God intended them to live, not where man shoved them in order to make a dollar. If no one went to see these poor animals perform – they would cease being a source of income and they might get to return to their HOME. How many more people have to lose their lives – and it’s not the animals fault.

    • keeflamb

      Can’t we just ask god to pick them up and put them back in the ocean? Clearly god can resist any “shoving” man can do?

  • Anita Kazee

    Let these wonderful animals go HOME, where God intended them to live – not shoved where man wants them to be so they can make a buck. If no one went to watch these poor animals perform, maybe they would be released.

  • notsaying

    i think tht this is idiotic you cannot return these animals to the wild they will die and Seaworld is one of the top Animal Conservationists in the world so stop saying tht they “turn the blind eye” and dont do anything! Almost all of the whales there dont no about life in the wild so they are not depressed or anything so its unfair to say tht! plz stop being rude about what happened it was a tragic event and i dont think tht dawn would want you ppl to be saying rude stuff about her work and everything tht she loves!!!

    • to notsaying

      do you know how to spell? really, it is difficult to understand what you are trying to say when you have no idea how to write a sentence or spell a word.

      Just because an animal is in captivity doesn’t mean that they should continue to stay in captivity. Nor just because someone loves animals and loves to train them doesn’t mean that they should continue to train wild animals. These animals should be in the wild, not in a pool.

      • dgh

        Do you know you suppose to start all sentences with a capital letter?

      • Luci

        First let me just say that I think these animals deserve to be in the wild. However “notsaying” does have a small point. Many of the younger whales were born in captivity so they DON’T know what life is like in the wild, but that doesn’t mean they should be subjected to the cruelty in these shows. Also Orcas and Dolphins have extremely sensitive hearing and anyone who has seen the videos of seaworld knows how loud the music is during those shows. That would be distressing to the animal. The point is that these are ANIMALS not humans they cannot say “hey I don’t want to do this, I’m not comfortable or the music is too loud.” The only way they can communicate that they are stressed is through aggression. If you have a dog and your child repeatedly pokes it in the eye and you do nothing eventually the dog is gonna bite the child. Do you continue about your business? Find a new home for the dog, with a warning “not good with children”? Or if the attack on the child is severe enough do you shoot it? and a dog is a domesticated animal! These whales are WILD. Go outside and play with a badger and see what happens! Release the whales!

    • also to not saying

      So how do you know they’re not depressed or traumatized. If you lived your entire life in a small room with no contact from other members of your kind it’s gonna depressed the crap out of you. That’s why we banned extended stints in solitary confinement for prisoners. Too bad we can’t extend the same courtesy to these animals.

      • Crystal

        I agree, thanks for better spelling

    • bianca

      i think the animals do miss where they were intented to live. how would you feel if you where trapped in a cage? would you be depressed?

    • Bob Loblaw

      Let’s not be naive. These animals are there to make money. Shows will resume within days of the trainer’s death. Sea World is first and foremost a business. I’m well aware of the conservation efforts there. But they are secondary. I also don’t doubt the dedication that the trainers have with these animals. But if the intent is truly for conservation and study … well, the animals don’t have to be ‘captive’ for this to happen. They are studied and tracked in the wild all the time. The animals are captive, first and foremost, b/c they are profitable.

      • Ian

        It’s because of people like that the world has gone to h ell you numb nuts. Naive? These dolphins don’t make money you moron, they get borderline starved to perform so they can eat fish, then tossed in a small space to swim, with sonar communication, they can talk to each other through glass and with the sensitivity of sonar communication, they get headaches by the roaring crowds.

      • Bob Loblaw

        ian, i think you’ve completely misunderstood my point. i was responding to the above post about conservation efforts at sea world. i was saying that THAT was naive, b/c any so-called conservation/study efforts are secondary to the primary purpose, which is of course to make money. And THAT’s what these animals are being exploted for… if they really wanted to ‘study’ the animals, they can do that just as well, if not better, if the animals were in the wild.

      • Sonia

        I agree with you Bob. These things are so sad to see what there are doing with those innocent animals.
        Animals should be FREE –
        By the way, if my spelling is not so good – the reason I am French –
        I try ……

    • keeflamb

      Evolution is a beautiful thing. How it can be discounted by theologians and animal trainers? I imagine the answer is beyond us all. Nothing tragic about this attack. The tragedy happened when the animal first killed. By 3 it’s just plain stupidity. We all will be witness to the end of SeaWorld; or at least the “killer” whale portion. Leave the animals alone for christ’s sake. You want to educate people? Stop charging admission and we’ll believe it. And Dawn should not be canonized because of this.

    • Lance

      I bet you beat your kids too.

  • lindsey

    It’s not so simple that these
    Seaworld animals can just be returned to the sea. In the first place the majority of them have been born in captivity and would die within a couple of days if they were just released back into the wild. In the second case, despite their obivous misery in being confined, they have been imprinted with human contact and in the majority of cases will still seek that contact regardless of where they are placed or set free. I think Bob Barker has the right idea that there should be sanctuaries for these creatures along one of the coastlines, that will give them the freedom they need, but still able to have contact with their trainers and with those people who love to work with these animals but it would be in a less controlled atmosphere.

    • LM

      Finally. I’ve been wondering why the people behind The Cove haven’t said anything about this. Very well said, gentleman, I agree with every word. SeaWorld has and continues to behave deplorably, and they really need to be shut down.

      • Allen

        LMAO, it’s lindsey, responding to her own post, LMAO! Dumb dumb!

      • Kat

        Maybe you are the one who is a dumb dumb. Lindsey had a lot to say and exceeded the max. number of characters allowed in one post. If you LYAO, I hope you removed your head from it first.

      • Allen

        @Kat, I’ll remove my head out of my A when you go lose 100 pounds, you fat cow.

    • Bob Loblaw

      Well said … there is a distinction that should be made between the animals that are born in captivity versus the ones captured and shipped to these parks. Should they be ‘released,’ then ‘how’ they are released should be appropriate to the animal’s circumstance.

  • go whales

    does anyone else think the attack might have been orca-strated?

    • Bob Loblaw

      seriously? … someone died.

      • Jennifer

        I wonder how she came to terms with a) professing to love and respect the animals she trained and b) participating in thier captivity and torture?

      • Bob Loblaw

        I can disagree wholeheartedly with what goes on in these parks … without making light of someone’s death.

    • Sophie


  • ktwolf

    I have a love/hate relationship with aquariums, zoos, and places like Sea World. Yes, in a perfect world, all of god’s creatures would live, free, in their natural environments. But, rightly or wrongly, people need to interact with these animals in order to appreciate them. This can only happen in these very flawed environments. I have swum with dolphins, and communed with killer whales in captivity, and I believe my experiences have given me a greater depth in my desire to advocate for these magnificent beings. It’s our responsiblity to ensure that they live as good a life as possible, and I honor the sacrifices they make for us.

    • Matt1

      Totally agree.
      I loved SeaWorld in San Diego as a kid, but as an adult I have very mixed feelings about the parks.
      While I hopefully believe the operators of these places have their hearts in the right place by trying to give these creatures the best way of life possible (don’t forget, some of them are too sick or weak to live in the wild), Corporate greed is a helluva drug.
      I’m just a bartender, wish I could personally do something in these types of situations. Guess I just have to hope and pray that people who have the power and are in the situation to do the right thing do so.

    • Bob Loblaw

      The Cove responds directly to this mentality. These water parks where dolphins and whales are tasked to perform actually give a false impression that they are happy, when in actuality they are living in a constant state of distress.

      We’re also not just talking about just one park (Sea World). This is an entire industry, with parks propping up all over the world, some well-run, many with terrible conditions. This is industry is what’s driving the ‘hunts’ that are depicted in The Cove. The cetaceans are hunted in droves, and the ones not deemed fit for “show” are simply killed.

    • Billy

      Screw that, Sea World should be closed down. I’m never taking my kids to see these shows you love so much. I mean can’t you see the misery in their eyes when you visit the monkeys at the zoos? Take you kids to local prison while you’re at it you piece of sh!t.

  • Stacy Burke

    Anyone who is reading this and has not seen the documetary “The Cove” should see it. Maybe then you will have a better informed opinion or insight to the bigger picture.

  • Mark Gaines

    They don’t call them ” Loving Whales “. They are called
    “Killers!” The arrogance of Sea World owners is Too Obvious !!
    They just want to sell more tickets ! After 3 deaths , why
    don’t you let him back to the ocean , so the Japanese can hunt him fairly ! This is NOT about
    animal husbandry ! You have kept
    a natural-born killer captive ,
    and he’s not happy about it !
    Let’s put human life BEFORE Profit ! SHAME ON YOU ! SICKOS !
    Hell ! Release ALL the Killers !
    Including yourselves ! My family
    and I will NEVER go to Sea World!
    Call it what it is …Sick World !
    It’s NOT a SHOW ! It’s only yet
    another way to provide gore to the
    blood-hungry public ! Sincerely ,
    Animalrights advocate,M.Gaines . PS-Does this get me on a FBI list ?

  • Mark Gaines

    Close Sea World !

  • BrooklynBrimstone

    I don’t know of any Orca or dolphin sanctuaries, but perhaps if any exist nearby in the U.S., they could ‘retire’ Tilicum to a place where he wouldn’t have to perform, but also wouldn’t be cast off to the ocean where he would more than likely perish, especially if he was born and raised in captivity.

  • dan

    OMG are you seriously gonna bring up god?? an imaginary being??

    they are animals most of them animals live better in captivity rather then the wild.. due to them being hurt or what not..

    and as far as the ones born in captivity they dont know the “wild” so they arent being deprived of anything..

    ughhhh they are ANIMALS….

    and as far as people bad mouthing the trainer.. she gave her life doing what she loved and knew the risks, but yet do it anyway.. in other instances we would call that person a hero…

    get a life a quit bad mouthing people for your own personal gratification

    • Matt1

      Your argument went out the window when you opened with “OMG”.

    • koka paramore

      Dan there is a GOD and if you were raised right you would know.How do you think you got here see what the earth came from and animals and mamals.Get your religion right first.

      • God

        Hi there!

      • dgh

        My mom and Dad had sex is how I got here but I guess it could have been a three-way with GOD so you have a 50% chance you are talking to Jesus!!!

      • dan

        koka paramore:::

        hmmmmm… so you believe in a imaginary person in the sky (which growing up your parents tell you there no such things as imaginary friends) that walks on water , makes water to wine, and a zombie…. where do you see any reality in that?? oh yeah isnt the same people who wrote the bible the same people who thought the world was flat?? hmmmm yeah and im the crazy one here…. ALL religions start with myth and fables…

      • dan

        Sorry i wasnt brainwashed as a kid

      • dan

        The belief that some cosmic jewish zombie can make you live forever if you symboliclly eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree..


    • Susan

      I don’t want to make light of her death, but how does the fact she gave her life doing what she loved make her a hero? If somebody loved robbing banks, and got killed doing that, would we call that person a hero?

    • Laura

      dan you’re seriously going to say that these animals live better in captivity than in the wild? Do you know nothing about how the world works? First of all as an avid orca lover I know a thing or two about the differences between orcas in captivity vs. in the wild. Orcas generally live half their life expectancy in captivity than in the oceans. Also…ever notice how their dorsal fins and tails are bent over? This is a clear indication they don’t have enough space to swim. Yes – they’d probably die if we released them into the wild. Unfortunately that’s what happened to Keiko (Free Willy) – HOWEVER sanctuaries or closed in areas of our oceans would be a perfect place for them to live out the rest of their lives. We owe it to these animals.

      • Renee

        UM, check your facts… Orca’s actually live longer in captivity! Weather Sea World is right or wrong, I don’t know.. BUT I DO KNOW, had it not been for Sea World I would not give a crap about whales or what was happening to them. The chance to marvel, explore, and see these animals made me a better person and an avid whale supporter. Had I not seen them there, I would be uneducated and indifferent to the species.. it was never something I was interested in. Now, I am very much offended by whale hunting and foul play to whales, where as before I could have cared less. Thank You Sea World for enlightening me!

  • dan

    unfortunatly the english language is riddled with terms and sayings that dont really make sense or apply to imaginary or FAKe things… soooooo not really out the window… so how about not being idiotic and not picking apart peoples messages for spelling errors, etc… WOW

    • Jennifer

      Your a friggen mastermind Dan! You’re the only peron in the history of the planet that has been able to prove that God “is an imaginary being.” I think you’re a shoe-in for the next Nobels. Either that or you’re an a$$ who wants to for your beliefs on us all here / belittle someone for believing something different that you do.

      • Jennifer

        That would be force your beliefs. Sorry.

  • BJohnson

    It was a tragic accident but it was sucky to blame the trainer and her ponytail. It’s like if they put the blame on her and she can’t defend herself b/c she’s dead then it’s okay to just make that assumption. I’m sure she wasn’t the first trainer to be in that spot where she was grabbed. Then they say the whale is fine but no more trainers in the water with the whale. Which one is it, safe or not? Sounds like not. The thing I don’t know cause I’m not a marine biologist or any kind of whale expert, more experienced people tell me, when they attack and in this case kill a human, are they considered more dangerous? This was in front of visitors right? Have the press heard from any of them about what they saw? Did the people there tell them they couldn’t talk about it? I just think about when dogs attack and hurt or kill humans, they put them down. That just happened in my city this past week. Just curious to know.

    • Danny

      They’re not gonna put him down because this orca is a trained veteran, very valuable for the establishment but the whale is sick and tired of being depraved of food and space to swim. They are the most happy when they swim, all whales are. I am sure he will get use to swimming in the ocean in no time once released. So release him Sea World, you’re like the Nazi regime of sea mammals.

  • dan

    good point bjohnson… in my opinion.. the orca should be put down or at least taken out of the show and not have contact with humans anylonger..

    PS… GoWhales.. that made me laugh out loud…

    do u think it was orca-strated?? rofl.. too funny

    • Kay

      He should be put down for…what? Do you really think he set out to kill his trainer? Do you really think he’s evil and deserves to die?

      He’s an animal who has spent the majority of his life in captivity, doing exactly what his human trainers have taught him to do. He’s jumped, splashed and waved on command. By all accounts, the two deaths (I don’t accept three…the man in 1999 purposely got into his tank and died of hypothermia) that have been attributed to him have been tragic accidents, an inevitability when we think we have dominion over animals just because they live in our tanks.

      Don’t free Willy. Don’t kill Willy. Try to understand Willy better. And to everyone out there who is calling for SeaWorld to close their doors, try to imagine a world where we have no interaction and no understanding of the animal world around us. I think we’d be a much sadder species than we already are for lack of it.

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