Orange County releases SeaWorld death report

A SeaWorld Orlando employee who saw a killer whale pull trainer Dawn Brancheau into the water told an Orange County detective she knew her peer was in trouble because that orca is a “possessive” animal.

SeaWorld employee Lynne Schaber told the sheriff’s detective investigating Brancheau’s Feb. 24 death that the orca, named Tilikum, “normally keeps things that he has and will not release them.”

Schaber’s statement was included in a 43-page investigative report released Wednesday afternoon by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office homicide unit.

Brancheau, 40, was killed as she was interacting with the 12,000-pound Tilikum in knee-deep water. The killer whale grabbed her by her ponytail and wouldn’t let go.

Among the new details released in the Sheriff’s Office 43-page report:

n SeaWorld Orlando trainer Jan Topoleski told detectives that just before the accident, Brancheau was on a cement slab on the south side of the pool, which is covered by a small amount of water, interacting with Tilikum.

Topoleski said he saw Brancheau lying on her stomach, interacting with the orca “nose to nose.”

He saw Brancheau’s long hair float on the water into Tilikum’s mouth.

“Jan Topoleski then saw Dawn Brancheau struggling to free her hair from Tilikum’s mouth,” an Orange County detective wrote.

Topoleski said he immediately pushed an alarm button.

n Sea World employees tried to free Brancheau from Tilikum’s mouth and as they moved the whale into three different pools, but the orca would not release her.

Topoleski told detectives the whale trainers ultimately breached Tilikum by raising the bottom of the “D” pool. The trainers used a net and eventually freed Brancheau.

n One SeaWorld employee, Chahine Kish, was cleaning tables at the Dine with Shamu dining room when she saw Brancheau holding a fish in her hand shortly before the attack, interacting with Tilikum.

Kish watched as trainers used nets and threw food in the pool to try and distract Tilikum. Kish told the detective she saw Tilikum become more “frantic,” and the whale only came to the surface long enough to breath.

n A 24-minute video of the attack was recorded by a Sea World security camera, according to sheriff’s reports. The video began at 1:37 p.m., approximately one minute before the orca grabbed trainer Dawn Brancheau.

The report stated for the first time that Brancheau briefly broke free from Tilikum after he pulled her into the pool. As she tried to swim to the surface, the orca repeatedly struck her. She struggled for 21 seconds before the orca held her in its mouth and swam underwater.