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By MIKE SCHNEIDER (AP) – 34 minutes ago

ORLANDO, Fla. — Relatives of a SeaWorld trainer dragged into the water by a killer whale last month will suffer severe harm if video of her death is made public, their attorney told a judge Wednesday.

Dawn Brancheau, 40, died Feb. 24 when the whale named Tilikum grabbed her by ponytail and thrashed her around after a show. The whale has also been involved in two other deaths, one of a trainer at a Canadian park and another of a man who snuck past security and was found draped over the whale’s body at SeaWorld.

Jon Mills, an attorney for Brancheau’s family members, said in court that their right to privacy outweighs the public’s right to view the video captured by SeaWorld cameras. At a hearing that lasted less than hour, he asked the judge to permanently stop the video from being released.

“There is no constitutional right to voyeurism and there is a constitutional right to privacy,” Mills said.

Circuit Judge Lawrence Kirkwood did not immediately rule on the request for the permanent injunction. He had issued a temporary injunction last week to prevent the release of the video, which was turned over to law enforcement.

Unless Kirkwood intervenes, the material will become public under Florida law once the Orange County Sheriff’s Office concludes its investigation.

Rachel Fugate, an attorney representing news organizations, said she didn’t object to an extension of the injunction so all sides could reach a resolution.

She said there were precedents in recent Florida history that allowed news organizations to view images but not make copies for public dissemination. Members of the public, for example, were allowed to view photos of the mutilated bodies of five college students slain in Gainesville in 1990, but not copy them.

Grieving relatives have succeeded in keeping such images from being made public in other cases — Dale Earnhardt’s widow successfully fought in Florida to prevent the release of autopsy photos of the race car driver, who died in a 2001 crash.


Family Wants Tape of Whale Killing Withheld

SeaWorld and trainer’s relatives don’t want footage of death released

Updated 10:45 AM EST, Tue, Mar 9, 2010

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Dawn LoVerde Brancheau seaworld killer whale

The family of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau is fighting to keep the video of her horrific death last month at the hands of Tilikum the killer whale from seeing the light of day.

Brancheau’s family along with the Orlando attraction are meeting with lawyers to block the release of the park’s tapes of the Feb. 24 killing, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Brancheau, 40, was dragged underwater and drowned by the 12,000-pound Tilikum shortly after a show and in front of several park guests who were still in the audience.

“Use of this video will do nothing more than further sensationalize a tragic event and traumatize our family,” Brancheau family spokesman Charles LoVerde said in a statement. “Some members of the news media have shown restraint and sensitivity during this difficult time, but many others have not. The conduct of some members of the press has been disgraceful. Our family has a right to heal in private, and we once again appeal to the media to recognize the terrible pain we are experiencing and give us a small measure of respect and privacy.”

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Animals in the News


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Death at SeaWorld


Death at SeaWorld

The tapes were handed over to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, but will become public once their investigation is concluded.

Meanwhile, the park is still trying to figure out what to do with Tilikum.

The 6-ton whale has spent the two weeks since the tragedy in a tank, not participating in shows, with no trainers joining him in the water.

SeaWorld said this morning that they’re reconsidering whether to return him to its live shows, reversing an earlier statement that said he would be performing again, according to the Sentinel.

The park is waiting on a safety review before it resumes in-water whale training.

First Published: Mar 9, 2010 10:33 AM EST

Earlier today, we held a press conference at SeaWorld Orlando to discuss several things related to Wednesday’s killer whale incident and the death of our trainer, Dawn Brancheau.

We are in the process of creating, with Dawn’s family, the Dawn Brancheau Memorial Fund – a trust that will support the children’s charities she was so passionate about. We will provide additional details, over the coming weeks, but those who would like to contribute can send donations to:

Dawn Brancheau Memorial Fund
c/o U.S. Bank
P.O. Box 809231
Chicago, IL 60680-9231 

To update the status of the killer whale presentations at our SeaWorld parks: As you know, all direct interactions with these animals were suspended immediately after the incident in all three SeaWorld parks. This includes all show and most husbandry interactions, as well as our dining programs. We will resume performances of our killer whale show “Believe” on Saturday, Feb. 27, at SeaWorld Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio, but our trainers will not enter the water. Our dining programs will likely resume next week.

Regarding our preliminary findings in the investigation of Wednesday’s incident, we have initiated a thorough review of all of the procedures that guide our interactions with killer whales, and we have invited several colleagues from other marine mammal facilities to be part of that review. The findings of this group and the changes to our interaction procedures that result will be shared in due course. We will only resume in-water interactions with our killer whales after that review is complete and we have implemented any changes in procedure we feel will assure the safety of our training staff.

In light of some of the speculation we’ve seen in the media coverage over the past two days, it is important that I again stress that we provide the highest standard of care, and no animal is ever subjected to punishment in any form. Tilikum is no exception.

Once again, and on behalf of everyone in our company, I would like to express our deepest sympathies to Dawn’s family. This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for all of us at SeaWorld, but the grief we’re experiencing cannot compare to that of Dawn’s family. Our thoughts and prayers remain with her husband Scott and all of those closest to her.

Jim Atchison

Jim Atchison

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