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Orca that killed trainer returns to SeaWorld show

By Kim Segal and John Zarrella, CNN
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Whale in trainer death returns to show
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tilikum makes his first appearance since killing a trainer in February 2010
  • Dawn Brancheau, 40, died when the orca pulled her underwater by her hair
  • Brancheau had been growing her hair for Locks of Love, her family says
  • SeaWorld trainers no longer go into the water with killer whales

Miami (CNN) -- Tilikum, the killer whale that killed a SeaWorld trainer last year, has returned to the stage at the Orlando, Florida, theme park. Tilikum made his return appearance Wednesday morning in front of an audience in the "Believe" show.

Trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed on February 24, 2010, when the killer whale -- commonly known as an orca -- grabbed her ponytail and pulled her under the water in front of horrified visitors. Brancheau died from "multiple traumatic injuries and drowning," the Orange County Sheriff's office said at the time of the accident.

Anthony Frogameni, Brancheau's nephew, said the family did not want to comment on Tilikum's return.

"From the start we've decided, it's a large family we all have our different opinions but we're just not going to talk about that aspect of it -- we're only going to focus on Dawn, " Frogameni said.

The Dawn Brancheau Foundation, which her family founded in her memory, says that the 40-year-old trainer's hair was especially long the day she was killed because she was growing it out to donate it to Locks of Love. The nonprofit organization provides hairpieces to disadvantaged children dealing with long-term hair loss due to medical treatment.

SeaWorld had not answered written questions from CNN as of Wednesday evening, but did issue a statement saying Tilikum's participation in the shows was "an important component of his physical, social and mental enrichment."

Since the accident last year, trainers no longer go into the water with any of the orcas at SeaWorld parks.

In August, SeaWorld was fined $75,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for three safety violations, including one in connection with Brancheau's death. The agency's investigation "revealed that SeaWorld trainers had an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities, including its location in Orlando," the OSHA statement said.

On this day when Tilikum is the star of the show, Frogameni says, "We want people to remember Dawn's life, not that tragic accident."

CNN's Dugald McConnell contributed to this report.

 
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