Horrifying Moment Orca Came To Viewing Window With Dead SeaWorld Trainer In Its Mouth

The final moments of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau before orca Tilikum killed her have left people heartbroken. 
Credit: WESH 2 News & Alamy

The final moments of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau before orca Tilikum killed her have left people heartbroken. 

Since the release of the 2013 movie Blackfish, keeping orcas and other sea mammals in captivity has been a source of much controversy.

It’s described as ‘a documentary following the controversial captivity of killer whales, and its dangers for both humans and whales’, and the film centres around the tragedy of Dawn Brancheau.

The SeaWorld trainer was horrifyingly killed in front of a live audience in 2010 by her orca partner, Tilikum.

And now, the final moments of Brancheau’s life have left people devastated.

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Brancheau and Tilikum regularly performed together in Orlando SeaWorld’s iconic Shamu show.

Tilikum was 22.5 feet long and weighed as much as six tonnes, but Brancheau trusted him absolutely during their shows.

Senior trainers praised Brancheau for her professionalism and great attitude, and Tilikum’s performances became one of the main attractions at the aquatic park.

However, on February 24, 2010, Brancheau’s Dine With Shamu segment ended in tragedy.

For reasons unknown to the crowds of visitors watching in horror from the sidelines, this was the day when Tilikum turned on his trainer.

Dawn Brancheau and orca Tilikum.
Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum regularly performed together at Orlando SeaWorld. Credit: Alamy

Brancheau was lying down at the poolside and rubbing Tilikum’s head in the show’s finale.

But things took an awful turn when Tilikum is believed to have grabbed onto Dawn’s long ponytail, unexpectedly pulling her into the water.

Tilikum began dragging the SeaWorld trainer into its depths, while she struggled to get free from his vicelike grip.

Tilikum began to thrash in the water, making it impossible for the 40-year-old to get free or catch her breath.

During this horrific event. SeaWorld employees began to shuffle crowds away to prevent them from seeing the disaster.

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Many professionals tried to intervene and save Brancheau during the approximately 45-minute-long, brutal attack.

But it ended in devastation.

Tilikum kept a tight grip on his trainer for around 45 minutes – reportedly severing her spinal cord, scalping her and tearing off an arm during the attack.

The orca eventually let her body go and Brancheau was retrieved from the water.

Her autopsy later showed that she had died by drowning and blunt force trauma. Tilikum had also broken Brancheau’s jawbone, ribs and a cervical vertebra.

Dawn Brancheau and orca.
Dawn Brancheau’s autopsy revealed that she died by drowning and blunt force trauma. Credit: Alamy

Horrifyingly, one visitor to the park shared some truly grim information in a victim statement to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Susanne De Wit said, per The Sun: “They told us he was playing with the trainer. Suddenly I saw Shamu grabbing the trainer by the shoulder and pulling her down in the water near the window.

“It did not look normal. It was scary. He was very wild with the trainer still in the whale’s mouth. The whale’s tail was very wild in the water.

“The tour guide pulled us out and there was a full alarm. We then saw them throw a net into the water.”

Dawn Brancheau and orca.
One SeaWorld visitor said in a victim statement that the orca was acting ‘very wild’. Credit: Alamy

Even more chillingly, Brancheau was the third fatality associated with Tilikum.

Blackfish alleges that Tilikum had become psychotic after years in captivity.

After Brancheau’s death, Tilikum was prevented from working with humans again and sadly died in captivity in 2017 after suffering from various health problems.

Speaking of Brancheau’s death, John Hargrove, a senior trainer at SeaWorld, said (via the Mirror): “We’ll never know why Tilikum made that choice to grab Dawn and pull her into the pool.

“He had a great relationship with her, and she had a great relationship with him. I do believe that he loved her, and I know that she loved him.”

Six years after Brancheau’s tragic passing, SeaWorld announced that it would be ending its practice of breeding orcas in captivity.

The Associated Press also reports that, following the tragedy, trainers no longer swim with killer whales during shows in the Shamu Stadium pool.

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Written by Annie Walton Doyle

Annie Walton Doyle is a content editor at IGV who specialises in trending, lifestyle and entertainment news. She graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London, with a degree in English Literature. Annie has previously worked with organisations such as The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Harvard University, the Pulitzer Prize and 22 Words.