Just a little over a year ago, Seaworld’s star of their Believe show, Tillikum, was involved in a tragic accident which claimed the life of 40 year old orca trainer, Dawn Brancheau. The reason is still unknown why Tillikum attacked Brancheau, but her death was deemed an accident after her autopsy. After the loss of Brancheau, Believe and Dine with Shamu were put to an immediate hault at all three Seaworld parks.
Believe shows resumed shortly after her death at all the Seaworld parks, but Seaworld Orlando brought Believe back with a twist – No Tillikum and no trainers in the water. Trainers no longer rode on the whale’s backs, swam with them, or dove with them. Instead, they stood along side the edges of the pool or completely outside of the pool. While that has not changed yet, Tillikum has returned to the spotlight in the Believe shows. Dine with Shamu has yet to return in Orlando.
The whole event has been a huge mess for the park, and it doesn’t look like the mess is going to get any cleaner any time soon based on reactions from the public. Before we start rejoicing that the star of the show has returned, let’s stop and take a quick look at the past year’s events.
- After of Brancheau’s death, Seaworld had a $75,000 fine levied against them by OSHA because the park did not have adequte protection in place for the trainers working in close proximity with the animals. Seaworld had plans to fight OSHA as they disagreed with their citation.
- PETA protested and said the whales should be freed, but PETA wasn’t the only ones protesting. It wasn’t uncommon for a few months to drive by Seaworld and see people protesting on the corner of the road just outside of the park.
- Just a year later, Seaworld announced the trainers would be returning into the water after new safety features were installed and ready for use. Seaworld will spend quite a bit to build fast-raising floors in the tanks and purchase underwater vehicles with lights and whale songs on board to distract the whales should anything ever go wrong again in the future.
- Seaworld also announced Believe would be replaced by another Killer Whale show. This show will be called One Ocean. The new show will be opening sometime next month in Orlando, and then Seaworld San Diego and San Antiono in the coming months.
With Tillikum’s return to the show, there has been very mixed feed back from the general public. Many are glad to see that he’s back to soak those sitting in the soak zone, but many are concerned with Seaworld’s decision to allow him to return to the show. Although the trainers are still not in the water, it’s a bold move by Seaworld to bring him back to the show only a year after Brancheau’s death.
Baby steps are baby steps, and that’s exactly what Seaworld is doing. To prevent future incidents, they’re taking small steps to ensure that it never happens again, and that if it does happen, they’ll be able to prevent it with new safety systems and procedures in place.
With all this in mind, what do you think? Is it too early for Tillikum to return to the show? Discuss it here.