PHOTOS.Tillikum’s previously killed trainer Keltie Byrne. Keltie Byre’s death by Tillikum was nearly 19 years ago exactly today.
As the world tries to grasp how a Sea World trainer was killed today by this killer whale, the story is not a new one for this orca.
It all began in 1991. Tilikum at the time lived at another ocean park. But in the years following, PBS Frontline did a report on the Tilikum killing of Keltie Byrne.
That report now tonight gives insight into the alleged danger Tillikum brought to Dawn Brancheau.
In 1991, Tilikum was not owned by SeaWorld nor lived in Orlando. The killer whale was then owned by Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia. It was there Tilikum and two female whales, in front of spectators, dragged trainer Keltie Byrne below the water surface drowning her.
Keltie Byrne’s death became the subject of a PBS Frontline report. That report reads as follows:
“On February 20, 1991, University of Victoria marine biology student and part-time trainer Keltie Byrne, 20, slipped and fell into the orca pool at Sealand of the Pacific. She had just finished a show with the three orcas. Since Sealand trainers stay out of the water, she was not wearing a wetsuit.
“One whale took her in its mouth and began dragging her around the pool, mostly underwater. A champion swimmer who had competed at the international level, she was no match for three huge orcas determined to keep her in the pool. At one point she reached the side and tried to climb out but, as horrified visitors watched from the sidelines, the whales pulled her screaming back into the pool.
” “I just heard her scream my name,” said trainer Karen McGee, 25, and then I saw she was in the pool with the whales. “I threw the life-ring out to her. She was trying to grab the ring, but the whale, basically, wouldn’t let her. To them it was a play session, and she was in the water.” McGee and other Sealand staff tried to distract the whales by throwing them fish, banging on the water with steel buckets and giving them hand and voice commands. Nothing worked. Byrne came up screaming one more time and then, as the whale swam round and round the pool with Byrne in its mouth, she finally drowned. It was several hours before her body could be recovered.
“She had ten tooth marks on her body, the largest on her left thigh, but was otherwise untouched. The whales had stripped her clothes off. “It was just a tragic accident,” Sealand manager Alejandro Bolz told newspaper reporters. “I just cannot explain it.” “
The following year, Tilikum was bought by SeaWorld for breeding in Orlando.
One report in the Telegraph adds today “A former contractor with SeaWorld told the Sentinel that Tillikum is typically kept isolated from SeaWorld’s other killer whales and that trainers were not allowed to get in the water with him because of his history. “
The following year, Tilikum was bought by SeaWorld for breeding in Orlando. But by July 1999, he was involved in another alleged incident in which a “body of a man who had apparently sneaked into SeaWorld after hours to swim with the whales was found draped dead across his back” reports the Orlando Sentinel.
That same report found the man Daniel Dukes to have died of hypothermia but was bitten and declothed by Tilikun.
In 2006 Dawn told the Orlando Sentinel her job was dangerous: “You can’t put yourself in the water unless you trust them and they trust you.”
For continuing coverage of Dawn Brancheau’s death on LALATE click here: http://news.lalate.com/category/animals.