Not all of the people on this list were bludgeoned by stray bits of park machinery or swallowed whole by imprisoned animals; some of them just suffered the misfortune of floating in a lazy river during a freak lightning storm or sitting in the fifth row during the Baywatch-themed water show.
From Sea World Orlando to Sea World San Diego, there have sadly been all too many deaths and accidents at SeaWorld parks. Read on to learn more about these tragic SeaWorld deaths, injuries, and incidents and remember that as cute as Sea World animals seem, there is a dark side to these amusement parks.
On July 6, 1999, a 27-year-old homeless man named Daniel Dukes was found naked in a tank, draped over the back of a killer whale named Tilikum. He visited SeaWorld the previous day, evaded security to stay after the park closed, and entered the orca tank. The coroner’s report found that his testicles had been torn off, and he sustained scrapes, bruises, and puncture wounds.
On February 24, 2010, Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer with 16 years of SeaWorld experience died in an accident involving Tilikum. SeaWorld’s head of animal training said that during a rubdown after the show Tilikum pulled the trainer into the water by her ponytail and held her under the water until she drowned. Some eye witnesses recall the event differently, however—some whale expertshave disputed SeaWorld’s claim that the whale grabbed hold of Brancheau’s ponytail, noting the detail in the autopsy report that her left arm was torn off.
In 2016, Morgan, an orca at SeaWorld-owned Loro Parque in the Spain, fully beached herself on the concrete side of her pool. Onlookers said she was fully out the water and motionless for 10 minutes after a show. Some heartless spectators even tried to take selfies with her. The behavior came a few weeks after Morgan was found repeatedly banging her head into a metal grate in her cage. The park claimed that “voluntary stranding is a natural behavior in wild orcas.” The footage of the beached whale sparked a #freemorgan hashtag and movement on social media.
In 1987, two orcas grabbed trainer Jonathan Smith, who had less than one week of experience working with the animals. They dragged him across the pool. Though he survived the attack, his kidneys were ruptured, his liver was lacerated, and he had cuts all over his body.
In 1987, trainer John Sillick fractured his vertebrae, femur, and pelvis while riding on the back of a killer whale named Orky.
At SeaWorld Ohio, since sold and now called Geauga Lake, in 1996, a driver lost control of his boatduring a Baywatch-themed water-ski stunt show. Allegedly suffering mechanical failure, the boat crashed into the fifth row of the stadium, sending 17 people to the hospital and injuring five others, who were treated at the park.
In the early 1970s, while working at an early iteration of SeaWorld called Marine World, a trainer named Dave Worcester was dragged to the bottom of a tank by Nepo, a pre-adolescent whale.
On August 16, 2011, three guests and five employees were injured after lightning struck inside Discovery Cove, the SeaWorld park in the UK. All eight people were transported to a local hospital as a precaution and were all released by the next day.
On February 21, 1991, Sealand trainer, Keltie Byrne, fell into a pool containing three orcas. She was pulled to the bottom of the tank by Tillikum, and held there until she drowned.
On October 4, 2010 a 68-year-old man from Manchester, England was found unresponsive on Roa’s Rapids. He was taken to a local hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. Preliminary findings reported that he died of natural causes.
In 2009, a 59-year-old man from Manchester, England, died after cutting his toe on coral while swimming with fish. The victim, a hemophiliac, was diagnosed with septic shock and organ failure. Doctors amputated both legs below the knee to prevent infections. The coroner ruled the death “accidental,” due to group B streptococcal septicemia.
In 1979, a man who scuffled with security guards was shot after it appeared he was reaching for a weapon. Upon investigation, authorities found the shooting justified.
In the 1970s, an orca—either the original Shamu or another whale performing under the same name—closed its mouth around trainer Bob Shepard’s head. Fortunately, he suffered only a minor wound.
At SeaWorld’s Aquatica in San Diego, a man was accused of touching a young girl and a woman as they swam at the park. He was arrested, but another man wanted for the same crime got away. He was charged with three misdemeanors, which include battery, sexual battery, and annoying a child.
In San Diego in August 2017, three protestors from PETA entered the “Orca Encounter” show carrying signs and wearing shirts that read “SeaWorld Sucks.” They demanded through a megaphone that SeaWorld release the animals into ocean pens. When asked to leave, the protestors locked arms and went limp. SeaWorld said one protestor was aggressive, but PETA says the security guards grabbed their phones, threw two of them to the ground, and placed their knee on a woman’s chest until she told them she couldn’t breathe.
In 2013, en route to SeaWorld in San Diego, a two-vehicle crash sent three people to the hospital, at least one with major injuries.