Killer whale jolts trainer


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Killer whale jolts trainer

SeaWorld Orlando's keyed-up orca slightly injured the worker

By Christopher Sherman | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted April 4, 2005

A SeaWorld Orlando trainer is expected to return to work soon after being injured by an "overly excited" killer whale, a theme-park spokeswoman said Sunday.

The killer whale, one of nine at the park that go by the stage name Shamu, swam rapidly past the trainer and circled back, bumping him during the Shamu Adventure show at 12:30 p.m. Friday, spokeswoman Becca Bides said.

"The trainer maintained control of the animal," Bides said, and the show continued uninterrupted.

The trainer, whose name was not released, was taken to Sand Lake Hospital for unspecified minor injuries and released the same day, she said.

Heidi Harley, an associate professor at the New College of Florida in Sarasota and a former killer-whale trainer at the Miami Seaquarium, said it's likely the killer whale knew what it was doing, but it's not uncommon for a killer whale to become excited.

Killer whales, or orcas, and dolphins are tolerant of humans even if they haven't worked with them from a young age, Harley said.

"They're remarkably easygoing about being in unprotected contact with adults," Harley said, but that's not to say you should go out and try to swim with them in the ocean, she said.

Predators in the wild, killer whales hunt in groups called pods for almost anything, including fish, seals, sharks and penguins.

They inhabit every ocean on earth.

They are the largest member of the dolphin family and are immediately recognizable by their distinctive black and white markings. The males can grow to 22 feet or longer and usually weigh between 8,000 and 12,000 pounds.

Bides said occasional bumps can be expected when working with animals that large.

"Because of their size, these behaviors can appear more dramatic than they are," she said.

Harley said a close encounter could be frightening, but an experienced trainer "would want to focus on the situation rather than be distracted by fear. It is your relationship with the animal that is going to be the factor with how easily you get out in the end."

Last year, a spectator at a Shamu Adventure show at SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas, took dramatic footage of a 6,000-pound killer whale named Ky aggressively pushing veteran trainer Steve Aibel around the tank.

The killer whale suddenly began swimming rapidly around the tank, launching itself halfway out of the water and onto Aibel.

At one point, Aibel started to leave the tank, but Ky pulled him back in.

The trainer was eventually able to calm Ky and escape without injury, but the spectator's video showed several tense minutes.

In interviews after the incident, Aibel said that he had worked with Ky for 10 years and the training was built around positive reinforcement of calm actions.

He did not know what set Ky off that day, but he just waited for him to calm down, he said.

The last reported incident with a killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando occurred in 1999 when a dead man was found naked on the back of the whale Tillikum in a backstage tank.

The man apparently had tried to swim with the 11,000-pound whale after the park closed. The South Carolina drifter was thought to have drowned or died of hypothermia.

Tillikum and two other whales were blamed for drowning one of their trainers in 1991 while he was performing at Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia. At SeaWorld Orlando, he was used for breeding and to give the final splash at the end of the show.

Christopher Sherman can be reached at 407-650-6361 or


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speck76 said:
The last reported incident with a killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando occurred in 1999 when a dead man was found naked on the back of the whale Tillikum in a backstage tank.



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It's curious that they don't release the name of the animal involved - all the other instances like this do. I'm really curious, now as to who it was. My guess is it's one of the "younger" whales, as I can't think of any of the adult whales there that they actually swim with that would be prone to an incident like this. In any case, glad the trainer's okay! That's a risk you take any time you work with animals...


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wannab@dis said:

My thoughts exactly...

...atleast the whale and the trainer are ok...and the show must goes on....amazing how the trainer continued with the show, even after becoming injured (atleast thats the imression the story gave me)....


New Member
As a follow-up, I did find the name of the whale and trainer involved. The whale was Taku - as I thought, an adolescent male whale. Near the same age as Ky, who was involved in the incident in Texas last year. The trainer in this case was also one of the senior trainers.

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