Whale Kills Trainer At SeaWorld
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In Orlando, investigators are at the SeaWorld theme park after a whale, an orca, killed a trainer this afternoon before an audience gathered for a public show. Authorities say the attack happened in a whale holding area at the Shamu Stadium. It's not the first time killer whales at the SeaWorld theme parks have attacked humans. And it's also not the first time this particular animal has been involved in an incident.
Judith Smelser, of member station WMFE, joins us from Orlando. And Judith, what have you figured out about what happened today?
JUDITH SMELSER: Well, investigators aren't quite sure what's happened, and they're not really saying very much. Officials with the local sheriff's office say one of the park's most experienced trainers, a woman who was about 40 years old, slipped and fell into a tank in a whale holding area, and was fatally injured by this whale. Press reports say this is a whale named Tilly, who's been at the park for a while. The sheriff's office says it seems to be an accident, but there is some confusion. There seems to be some contradictions between the eye-witness reports and what authorities say happened.
BLOCK: And what are some of those discrepancies?
SMELSER: Well, the main thing is that eye witnesses have told local media here that the incident happened during this performance, and that the whale lunged out of the water and pulled the trainer in. Obviously, officials are saying it was a slip and fall. That's just one of the many things that investigators are going to be trying to clear up in the next few days.
BLOCK: And Judith, we mentioned that this whale has been involved in past incidents involving humans. What can you tell us about that?
SMELSER: Well, there seems to be some confusion along those lines as well. SeaWorld's GM today read a short statement saying: Never in the history of our parks have we experienced an incident like this. But there have been some accidents. In fact, the Humane Society of the United States says that this same whale, Tilly, killed a part-time trainer in 1991 at a park in Canada. And the organization also said the same whale was involved in another death here at SeaWorld in Orlando, back in 1999. So I'm sure they're going to be going back over all of that history, as well, in the investigation.
BLOCK: Right. And Judith, the group you mentioned, the Humane Society of the United States, had long campaigned against these kind of marine theme parks. They say these are wild animals; they're killer whales. People shouldn't go to these shows, and whales shouldn't be kept in these parks.
SMELSER: Well, absolutely. The organization has certainly argued that these are, as you said, wild animals, and people shouldn't be interacting with them. And certainly, people shouldn't be gathering to watch that kind of an interaction. It's an unnatural interaction. I'm sure they're going to be weighing in on this in the coming days as well.
BLOCK: What else, Judith, do you know about what's going on at SeaWorld in Orlando after this fatal attack today?
SMELSER: SeaWorld really isn't talking very much about what they are doing. Again, the general manager of the Orlando park here didn't take any questions from the press after his prepared statement. He said only that they're investigating the incident, and that they're going to be reviewing all of their standard operating procedures at the park. We understand that officials from OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are also on their way to Orlando to start an investigation.
Now, late today, the San Diego SeaWorld park also said it had suspended its killer whale show in response to what happened here. And Orlando, of course, canceled the show where the incident took place. And we certainly expect that it will suspend its killer whale shows here as well.
BLOCK: Judith Smelser, news director with WMFE in Orlando. Judith, thank you very much.
SMELSER: Thank you, Melissa.