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Whale trainer remembered at funeral

Animal trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed Wednesday at SeaWorld Orlando.
Animal trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed Wednesday at SeaWorld Orlando.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Mourners pack Dawn Brancheau's funeral at church in Chicago, Illinois
  • The animal trainer died last week after whale dragged her underwater at SeaWorld
  • Memorial services to be held later in Orlando, Florida

(CNN) -- Mourners packed into a church in Illinois Monday to remember a woman whose death made headlines worldwide.

At the St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel in Chicago, a funeral was held for Dawn Brancheau, a SeaWorld trainer who died last week after a killer whale dragged her underwater at Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

A memorial service for the 40-year-old will take place in Orlando, Florida, at a future date, according to the Blake Lamb Funeral Home.

Brancheau had wanted to be an animal trainer from the time she visited SeaWorld as a 9-year-old, her sister Diane Gross said last week.

"It was her dream job," Gross said. "She loved the animals like they were her own children. ... She loved what she did."

Brancheau was pulled underwater Wednesday at SeaWorld Orlando, when a 6-ton killer whale named Tilikum grabbed her ponytail. A source at SeaWorld said the whale dove deep underwater after seizing Brancheau. Trainers had to wrangle the animal into a smaller pool before they could retrieve her body about 40 minutes later.

The same whale was linked previously to two other human deaths.

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Tilikum and two other whales were involved in the 1991 drowning of a trainer at a marine park in Victoria, British Columbia. The trainer fell into the whale tank at Sealand of the Pacific and was dragged underwater as park visitors watched.

In 1999, Tilikum was blamed for the death of a 27-year-old man whose body was found floating in a tank at SeaWorld, the apparent victim of the whale's "horseplay," authorities said then.

Labor Department spokesman Mike Wald said the safety and health agency is looking into whether Occupational Safety and Health Administration workplace standards were violated in Brancheau's death. The agency will complete a report within six months, he said.

If workplace infractions are found, OSHA will propose financial penalties, Wald said. If that happens, the company could accept the penalties and make needed workplace changes or appeal the penalties before an OSHA review commission.

Inspectors also are looking into the incident from an animal-welfare perspective, said David Sacks, an Agriculture Department spokesman.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service wants to know whether federal standards were violated in the exhibiting of warm-blooded mammals.

SeaWorld shows with killer whales resumed on Saturday.