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SeaWorld Called Best Place for Tilikum

Dawn Brancheau is the third person killed by the orca named Tilikum. She lost her life during an incident at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday.

Since then, there have been calls for the killer whale to be euthanized, which SeaWorld is flatly rejecting, and for it to be let loose into the wild. Animal rights activists were to demonstrate Saturday to press for Tilikum to be set free.

But on "The Early Show Saturday Edition," a former SeaWorld trainer who worked with Tilikum for seven years said letting it out to sea isn't possible, and observed that there's "no better place for Tilikum than SeaWorld."

Jeff Ventre, who's now a physician in New Orleans, told CBS News correspondent and substitute co-anchor Kelly Cobiella he "knew Dawn in a past life. … Dawn was a fabulous trainer and a friend at one time in my life.

"You never expect something like this to happen," Ventre said. "Incidents happen all the time, but something of this magnitude is certainly unexpected, shocking and tragic."

He wouldn't address a charge by Brancheau's former boss that the incident was Brancheau's fault. "I don't know the circumstances of what happened at SeaWorld," Ventre said.

Asked why SeaWorld is holding onto Tilikum, Ventre observed that, "It's in SeaWorld's interests to keep Tilikum and, secondarily, there's no better place for Tilikum than SeaWorld. He gets the best care possible for his particular situation.

"He's not releasable for a couple reasons. Number one, he spends as lot of time surface-resting - a wild orca swims pretty much its entire life.

"Number two, he doesn't have any viable teeth left. One of the (things you do when) putting orcas in a facility is that you have to separate them with gates, and what they tend to do is threat-displays at each other to establish dominance. It's a matriarchal society. Tilikum (a male) is a sub-dominant animal in that society. He has a little bit less room to maneuver because of his massive size. He might be the largest animal in captivity. ... So, consequently, his teeth have broken off. And that's why you'll see the trainers every morning and evening using a water pick to flush out the impacted fish that gathers in the remnants of the teeth ... so it doesn't lead to something like an infection."

SeaWorld is said to have Tilikum insured for as much as $5 million, and Ventre said, "He's worth millions, and he represents the future of the breeding program for SeaWorld. He has impregnated - he's produced 13 calves, I believe. I think ten are still alive. I haven't been in the game for a long time. That's a guess, but those are the numbers that I think are accurate."

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