Despite calls to free or destroy the animal, SeaWorld said on Thursday it would keep the killer whale that drowned its trainer, but would suspend all orca shows while it decides whether to change the way handlers work with the behemoths.
Also, visitors who occasionally were invited to pet the killer whales would no longer be allowed to do so.
“We’re going to make any changes we have to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Chuck Tompkins, chief of animal training at SeaWorld parks, said a day after a 5,440-kg killer whale named Tilikum dragged a trainer into its pool and thrashed the woman to death as audience members watched in horror.
Talk-radio callers, bloggers and animal activists said Tilikum — which was involved in the deaths of two other people over the past two decades — should be released into the ocean or put to death.
Mr. Tompkins said Tilikum would not survive in the wild because it had been captive for so long, and that destroying the animal was not an option either, because it was an important part of the breeding programme at SeaWorld and a companion to the seven other whales there.
Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old veteran trainer who adored whales, was rubbing Tilikum from a poolside platform when the 22-foot creature grabbed the woman’s ponytail in its jaws and pulled her in. “He kept pushing her and poking her with his nose,” said Paula Gillespie of Delaware, who saw the attack from an underwater observation point. “It looked like she was just totally caught off guard and looked like she was struggling.”