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February 26, 2010
'Killer Whales' Put on Quite a Show

Perhaps the public relations of thrill-seeking should be to abandon the thrill when it becomes deadly -- three times, now, in the case of the killer whale Tillikum, or "Tilly" as he is familiarly known at Sea World Orlando. Sea World has shut down its whale shows until it can assess what happened in the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau Wednesday at the end of a lunchtime show.

There is something troubling about enticing audiences to a "thrill show" with an animal who lives up to his "killer-whale" designation. Larry L. Smith, president of the Institute for Crisis Management in Louisville, Ky., says  this latest attack could aid in the attendance of teens and young adults. 

"It's not going to draw families necessarily or older people who would typically visit there," he says, "but there is an age group that gets excited about the risks and the potential for drama and it may attract some of those folks." 


Tillikum apparently leapt from the water of his show pool, grabbed Ms. Brancheau by her ponytail, and thrashed her until she drowned. He was apparently brought  into captivity in 1983 and has been "swimming in circles" ever since. The whale was involved in the death of another trainer at a Canadian park and then an apparently homeless man who snuck into SeaWorld after it closed. 

Chances are picking up he might put on another dire show should he be returned to public curiosity. It's better, perhaps, he be returned to the oceans that are the natural environments of "killer whales." That would be enlightened, if perhaps financially costly, public relations for Sea World.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the Orlando death.  


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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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