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Published: Thursday, 4/1/2010

Autopsy shows SeaWorld trainer's death consistent with trauma, drowning


ORLANDO, Fla. - SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau suffered "blunt force" injuries to her neck, head, and torso after a killer whale pulled her under water last month, according to a final autopsy report released yesterday.

The report confirms last month's preliminary findings by the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner's Office that Ms. Brancheau's cause of death was from multiple traumatic injuries and drowning.

The medical examiner ruled her death an accident.

Ms. Brancheau was interacting with a 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum in knee-deep water Feb. 24 when the killer whale grabbed her by her ponytail and wouldn't let go. A crowd was present when the orca attacked her.

The six-page autopsy report shows the violence with which Tilikum treated the veteran trainer after she was pulled in the water.

Ms. Brancheau, who was 40, suffered multiple fractures, including to her back, ribs, legs, arms, and face.

Her spinal cord also was injured, the report said. Her body was covered in cuts and bruises.

The medical examiner found fluid in Ms. Brancheau's lungs, showing that she drowned. A toxicology report, which is routinely performed in autopsies, found no drugs in Ms. Brancheau.

Immediately after the attack witnesses told the Orlando Sentinel the killer whale shook and tossed the trainer while swimming with her in the tank.

The sheriff's department's investigation into the accident is ongoing.

SeaWorld has removed Tilikum from its daily shows and ordered its trainers to keep their distance from the animal.

He is twice as big as any other orca at the park.

The park imposed the restrictions while it reviews its killer whale safety protocols.

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