The Orange County Sheriff's Office has just released a 43-page investigative report into the death of Dawn Brancheau and is declaring her death an accident.
Dawn's death was no accident, and the Orange County Sheriff's report is entirely unsupportable on its face. Consider that a SeaWorld trainer who was acting as a "spotter" for Brancheau told investigators that Tilikum "has been deemed to have tendencies that make him unsafe," and yet Brancheau was allowed to "[lie] on her stomach, face to face with Tilikum … in three to four inches of water" at the side of the pool on a concrete slab, from which she was pulled into the water by the huge 12,000-pound orca.
The trainer also admitted that "no one ever goes in the pool with Tilikum because of his past history," yet video footage of Brancheau that was posted on the Web site of the NBC affiliate in Orlando and shot by a visitor to the park just minutes before her death clearly shows Brancheau in the water with Tilikum.
SeaWorld executives have long known that these animals pose a risk of death and injury, but they go for the money, exactly as mine owners who won’t risk a drop in profits by stopping to fix massive problems that put humans in harm's way do.
Another spotter confirmed that on the day of Brancheau’s death, Tilikum was "possessive," and the assistant curator of animal training admitted to investigators that "Tilikum's past history is that when he obtains a person, he does not let them go."
Despite knowing about the extreme danger posed by Tilikum and the fact that he had killed twice before, SeaWorld goes beyond ignoring the problem, understating the risks and paying money to trainers to risk their lives.
SeaWorld showed a reckless disregard for Brancheau's life, and the company and its executives should unquestionably be prosecuted for manslaughter. PETA is demanding that this investigation be reopened. If authorities refuse to comply, the next body in the pool will represent blood on all their hands.
Although SeaWorld publicly reacted to the death with surprise, the corporation's executives were well aware that such an incident was in fact inevitable. In 2007, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health told SeaWorld that "it is only a matter of time" before someone is killed by a captive orca—this was an expert opinion that SeaWorld executives succeeded in pressuring the agency to withdraw.
PETA has requested all public records of the investigation and will pore over the details to further expose the unconscionable risk to SeaWorld trainers posed by these massive predators, who can and will kill again. PETA renews its call for SeaWorld to begin rehabbing and preparing for release all the orcas and dolphins currently held captive at its amusement parks by moving them to coastal sea pens.