Animal Law

As Experts Debate Whale's Intent in Trainer Homicide, Death Penalty Is Ruled Out


Although a 40-year-old trainer drowned by a 12,000-pound dominant male orca whale at SeaWorld this week is the third human death linked to this individual animal, experts are debating whether Tilikum intended her homicide when he grabbed her hair as she stood in shallow water and dragged her into the deep end.

“This was not an insane, uncontrollable act,” marine conservationist Richard Ellis of the American Museum of Natural History says in a WLS-TV/DT article to which the Associated Press contributed. “This was premeditated.”

Other experts, however, say Tilikum may simply have been playing with Dawn Brancheau’s braided hair and would have done greater damage if he had intended to kill her, according to the New York Times.

This legal debate is largely academic: Although the Orlando, Fla., attraction is reviewing its safety procedures it has ruled out the possibility of the death penalty for Tilikum, who is a valuable breeding animal, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Under Florida law, owners of wild animals are generally allowed to make the decision whether to euthanize the perpetrator of a fatal attack on a human, the newspaper reports.

Related earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Swiss to Take Vote on Whether Animals Must Have Lawyers in Court”

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