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Published: Saturday, 2/27/2010

SeaWorld ready to resume use of killer whales


ORLANDO, Fla. - SeaWorld Orlando and its sister parks in San Diego and San Antonio will resume performances with their killer whales today, though trainers will not swim with the animals as the company works to understand what led one of its orcas to grab and kill a trainer this week.

SeaWorld Orlando also said it intends to continue using in its performances Tilikum, the 6-ton orca that pulled veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau to her death Wednesday, though the animal will not be used today.

"He's been a part of our team, and he will remain a part of our team," SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment President Jim Atchison said. SeaWorld said the first performance of its killer-whale show, scheduled for 11 a.m., will include a video tribute to Ms. Brancheau.

The wide-ranging news conference came approximately 72 hours after the killer whale nicknamed "Tilly" pulled Ms. Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer with more than a decade of experience, into the water by her ponytail and drowned her in front of park guests.

The tragedy has stirred renewed criticism from some animal-rights activists and orca experts who contend that killer whales should not be held in captivity. It has also prompted questions about whether it is safe for trainers to work with Tilikum, an adult male roughly twice the size of SeaWorld Orlando's next-largest orca.

SeaWorld itself has long acknowledged that the whale is particularly dangerous. Trainers were forbidden from swimming with him, and only the most experienced ones - including Ms. Brancheau - were permitted to work with him from the water's edge. Tilikum is the only orca among the 26 in SeaWorld's companywide collection that has unique handling protocols.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said last night that it will protest today's Shamu reopening in Orlando. PETA wants SeaWorld to stop capturing and confining ocean mammals.

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