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Man found dead in whale tank at Florida's SeaWorld

Tillikum, the largest killer whale in captivity, was not accustomed to people being in his tank  

In this story:

Whale not trained for human contact


July 6, 1999
Web posted at: 11:46 p.m. EDT (0346 GMT)

ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) -- The body of a 27-year-old man was found floating on the back of a killer whale in a tank at SeaWorld adventure park early Tuesday, the apparent victim of a whale's "horseplay," authorities said.

The Orange County sheriff's office said the man apparently climbed into the tank after hiding in the park after closing on Monday.

A park employee spotted the man's naked body early Tuesday draped over the back of Tillikum, the largest killer whale in captivity. The man's bathing suit was found in the pool.

"There was no obvious signs of trauma to the body. He wasn't chewed. He wasn't dismembered," said Jim Solomons, a spokesman for the sheriff's office.

Although an autopsy has not been performed yet, Solomons said that a preliminary assessment from the county medical examiner strongly suggests a drowning.

The body had been in the water "for quite a long time" and had scrapes on it, possibly a sign the victim had been dragged along the bottom, Solomons said.

The 11,000-pound, 22-foot-long whale, he said, was "not accustomed to people being in his tank" and "wouldn't have realized he was dealing with a very fragile human being."

"While we'll probably never know the exact cause of death," Solomons said, "he may have been a victim of what a whale would call horseplay -- just playing around."

Whale not trained for human contact

Tillikum and two other whales were involved in the drowning of a trainer at a Victoria, British Columbia, marine park in 1991.

Keltie Byrne fell into the whale tank at the Sea Land Marine Park Victoria in 1991 and was dragged underwater as park visitors watched.

SeaWorld signed a purchase agreement for Tillikum in late 1991. The sale price was not disclosed, but Sea Land documents at the time appraised the whale's value at $1.5 million.

Unlike other killer whales, Tillikum has been given little opportunity at either park to interact with humans. One marine mammal scientist speculated that in both deaths, Tillikum regarded the entry of a human into his tank as the presence of a new toy.

The whale has spent most of his Florida retirement breeding and has sired four calves.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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  • Seaworld Florida
B.C. Killer Whale Adoption Program
Enchanted Learning
  • ORCA - Killer Whales
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