I went to take a picture of an orca at SeaWorld but it had a DEAD trainer in its mouth when it got to the viewing window

A VISITOR to SeaWorld has recalled the terrifying moment she went to take a photo of an orca only to find a dead trainer in its mouth.

Dawn Brancheau was attacked by the infamous killer whale Tilikum after the huge creature dragged her into the water by her hair and brutally beat her to death.


Dawn Brancheau depicted moments before she was killed by Tilikum
Dawn was an experienced trainer who cared deeply about whales


Dawn was an experienced trainer who cared deeply about whalesCredit: Orlando Sentinel


Tilikum was a huge whale expert who said he became “psychotic” in captivityCredit: Alamy
Dawn appeared with the orca in front of visitors before her death


Dawn appeared with the orca in front of visitors before her death

The 40-year-old died of suffocation with her spinal cord severed and skinned by the “psychotic” orca, which has killed two other people in its 30 years in captivity.

The haunting video taken moments before her death shows Dawn playing with the massive Tilikum – who weighed six tonnes and was 22 feet long – in front of a crowd at SeaWorld.

Dawn’s death led to big changes at the parks – and now the trainers are not entering the orca tanks.

One of those watching was Susanne De Wit, a tourist from the Netherlands, who saw what unfolded and gave a statement to investigators.

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After lunch around 1.30 p.m. she said she went to a viewing area where she was told Tilikum would come to a viewing window for pictures.

De Wit says she attended the “Lunch with Shamu” event, referring to the stage name SeaWorld has given to many orcas.

On the day he visited, the show was performed by Tilikum, but he is listed as Shamu in the statement provided to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, seen by Sun Online.

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“We saw Shamu in the window straight ahead,” he said.

“They told us he was playing with the coach. Suddenly I saw Shamu grab the trainer by the shoulder and pull her down into the water near the window.

“It didn’t seem normal. It was terrifying. 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 full alarm. Then we saw them casting a net into the water.

“The whale was below. We haven’t seen the coach at this point.”

De Wit also interviewed a detective from the Sheriff’s Office, and the gruesome details were also part of their report on Branchaeu’s death.

“Susanne De Wit saw Tilikum swimming with the trainer in his mouth,” says Dawn’s February 2010 death report.

“Tilikum was holding the coach by her shoulder and neck. Susanne DeWit could see the coach’s legs.

“Tilikum was shaking the coach and moving extremely fast.”


A timeline of events using video taken by another visitor shows that Brancheau’s “lifeless” body was seen in Tilikum’s mouth around 1:43 p.m.

The time of death listed in the Sheriff’s Department report is “approximately” 1:37 p.m.

Dawn was an experienced trainer who was considered the “poster girl” for SeaWorld, and her shocking death sparked intense debate surrounding whales in captivity and prompted changes in SeaWorld’s safety practices.

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Her sister Debbie told The Sun Online that animal lover Dawn was devoted to the whales she worked with and is still trying to process her death.

Tilikum was removed from his family in waters off the coast of Iceland in 1983 and placed in a concrete tank at the Hafnarfjördur Marine Zoo near Reykjavík.

After months spent swimming in circles, the orca was sent to Sealand in the Pacific in 1984.

In 1991, Tilikum was still huddled in Sealand Park in Canada when a young part-time worker slipped and dived into the pool.

Spectators watched in horror as Tilikum and his two teammates repeatedly dragged marine biology student Keltie Byrne underwater.

He dragged her wildly around the pool and prevented her from coming to the surface as the 21-year-old was heard saying “I don’t want to die”.

The staff frantically tried to throw her a life jacket, but she was unable to reach it as the whales treated her like a “toy”.

In a terrifying 10-minute ordeal, Keltie managed to reach the surface twice as her haunting screams echoed around the pool.

By the time he came up for the third time, he had tragically drowned.

Eight years later, Tilikum struck again.

On the morning of July 6, 1999, horrified trainers found the body of a 27-year-old man on Tilikum’s back.

Daniel Dukes had visited SeaWorld the day before and stayed after the park closed – somehow escaping the eyes of security.

He entered Tilikum’s tank undressed and by the next morning was dead.

SeaWorld said in a statement: “This tragic situation occurred more than 12 years ago.

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“Trainers have not been in the water with killer whales for many years.

“We have extensive protocols and training to protect the safety of our trainers and animals.

Dawn was seen smiling as she played with Tilikum


Dawn was seen smiling as she played with Tilikum
She petted him and fed him fish during the performance


She petted him and fed him fish during the performance
Dawn's family said she cared deeply for all animals


Dawn’s family said she cared deeply for all animalsCredit: Provided
She is remembered for her bright smile


She is remembered for her bright smileCredit: Provided