Friday, February 26, 2010

Ponytails and Killer Whales

Dawn Brancheau in happier times

Killer whale to be spared as ponytail blamed for trainer death

By Nick Allen in Los Angeles Published: 5:47PM GMT 25 Feb 2010

“A killer whale which drowned its trainer will be spared after colleagues said her ponytail was to blame for the tragedy.

Witnesses described seeing the 30-year-old, 12,300-pound bull orca, named Tilikum, grabbing veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau's long hair in its mouth before dragging her underwater at SeaWorld Orlando in Florida.

Chuck Tompkins, head of animal training at all SeaWorld parks, said: "Dawn had just finished up a very good session with this animal. She was interacting with him, petting him on the nose.

"Dawn had very long hair in a ponytail. That ponytail had swung in front of him. He grabbed her by the hair and pulled her underwater and held her underwater."

Witnesses at an earlier show said that the whale had been behaving like an unruly child but Mr. Tompkins dismissed the reports and said he was a "good animal".

SeaWorld has temporarily closed its whale attractions but there were reportedly no plans to remove the animal from the show.

Tilikum was one of three orcas blamed for the drowning of a previous trainer in Canada in 1991. Eight years later a late night park intruder was found dead in his pool.

Brancheau's older sister, Diane Gross, said the trainer, who was married with no children, would not want anything to happen to the whale and the family regarded her death as a tragic accident.

"Dawn loved the whales like her children, she loved all of them," her sister said. "They all had personalities, good days and bad days."

Personal comment: My heart goes out to Dawn Brancheau’s family. She was working with a species she loved so it’s a bittersweet ending to her life. I know that she wore a ponytail as a sign of her femininity as I often do, but ponytails can be enticing for males and a source of trouble. Though I understand hers was part of her performance costume and who she was. If the account above is true (and there have been several others that varied in major details) she was pulled off the platform and dragged under by her hair, the ultimate bad hair day! I didn’t mention it in my remarks about hoods [in my post for February 24, 2010] but another reason I wear a hood while diving is to prevent someone from grabbing me by my hair. There is the head harness (spider) of my mask but that is much more difficult to get a firm grip on that than loose hair or a ponytail. I think women with long hair who can dive with no fear of being grabbed by the hair look great wearing a ponytail to prevent their hair tangling in their equipment.

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Powys , Wales, United Kingdom
I'm a classically trained dancer and SAB grad. A Dance Captain and go-to girl overseeing high-roller entertainment for a major casino/resort