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Dawn Brancheau Pictures: SeaWorld Trainer Loved Whale That Killed Her

(Jeffrey Sasse)
(Jeffrey Sasse)
(Jeffrey Sasse)
NEW YORK (CBS) Veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was living her dream when Tilikum, a 12,000 pound killer whale, turned it into a nightmare.

Photo: Dawn Brancheau playing with an unnamed whale.

PICTURES: Dawn Brancheau SeaWorld Trainer Killed

According to the Orlando Sentinel, witnesses said that "the animal suddenly grabbed Brancheau by the upper arm, tossed her around in his mouth and pulled her beneath the water as dozens of tourists looked on in horror."

SeaWorld workers rushed to her rescue, but it was too late. Brancheau drowned Wednesday.

Photo: Dawn Brancheau playing with an unnamed whale.

PICTURES: Dawn Brancheau SeaWorld Trainer Killed

"There wasn't anything to indicate to us that there was a problem," Chuck Tompkins, head of animal training at all SeaWorld parks, told the CBS "Early Show."

He said the whale had performed well in the show and that Dawn was rubbing him down as a reward for doing a good job.

Photo: Dawn Brancheau playing with an unnamed whale.

PICTURES: Dawn Brancheau, SeaWorld Trainer Killed

But some spectators who attended an earlier performance told the Associated Press that the whale was acting like an ornery child.

Joao Lucio DeCosta Sobrinho and his girlfriend were at an underwater viewing area when Brancheau was attacked. They said they suddenly saw a whale with a person in its mouth.

"It was terrible. It's very difficult to see the image," Sobrinho said.

The couple said they watched the whale show at the park two days earlier and came back to take pictures. But on Wednesday the whales appeared agitated.

Because of his size and the previous deaths, trainers were not supposed to get into the water with Tilikum, and only about a dozen of the park's 29 trainers worked with him. Brancheau had more experience with the 30-year-old whale than most. She was one of the park's most experienced trainers overall.

"We recognized he was different," said Tompkins. He said no decision has been made yet about what will happen to Tilikum, such as transferring him to another facility. SeaWorld has also suspended the killer whale shows at all of its parks, which also include locations in San Diego and San Antonio, to review procedures.

A SeaWorld spokesman said Tilikum was one of three orcas blamed for killing a trainer in 1991 after the woman lost her balance and fell in the pool at Sealand of the Pacific near Victoria, British Columbia.

Tilikum was also involved in a 1999 death, when the body of a man who had sneaked by SeaWorld security was found draped over him. The man either jumped, fell or was pulled into the frigid water and died of hypothermia, though he was also bruised and scratched by Tilikum.

But despite Tilikum's difficult past, Brancheau's sister, Diane Gross, said that she loved working with whales and would never want any harm to come to Tilikum.

"She knew she wanted to work with animals and Sea World was her dream," Gross said. When she got hired at SeaWorld "it was the happiest day in everybody's life in our family."

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PICTURES: Dawn Brancheau SeaWorld Trainer Killed

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