What initially seemed like a routine warm-up for a show at Orlando's SeaWorld on February 24, 2010 quickly turned horrific when a six-ton orca named Tillikum grabbed his trainer and dragged her underwater. The trainer, 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau, was standing at the side of the pool when Tilly as the whale was affectionately called grabbed her by the ponytail and began thrashing her back and forth underwater. The entire scene which would prove fatal for Brancheau, who drowned and endured blunt force trauma to her head and torso took place in front of a shocked audience of tourists and children.
The appalling scene caused a media maelstrom and also (predictably) sparked controversy from animal rights groups. Tilly was known to have a troubled past, having had been involved in the deaths of two people before Brancheau: his trainer at Sea World in Vancouver in 1991 drowned after being tossed between Tilly and two other whales; the following year a homeless man was found naked and dead in Tilly's tank, draped across his back.