OFFBEAT: Family of Dawn Brancheau breaks silence about whale documentary 'Blackfish'

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2014-01-23T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Family of Dawn Brancheau breaks silence about whale documentary 'Blackfish'By Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

On Feb. 24, 2010, Tilikum, one of the star killer whales at Sea World in Orlando, Fla. killed Dawn Brancheau, the 40-year-old trainer originally from Cedar Lake.

She drowned during the "Dine with Shamu Show" when the whale grabbed her and pulled her into the pool, a tragic incident inspiring last year's documentary about Sea World, the treatment of killer whales used in performances and the death of this trainer.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite's documentary called "Blackfish" created plenty of media attention in the past year, but it failed to garner a nomination last week for the category of Best Documentary Feature from the Academy Awards.

"Blackfish" traces a 39-year history of killer whales in captivity leading up to a 2010 incident when Brancheau was killed by the 12,000-pound Orca whale Tilikum, a whale previously associated with the death of two other people.

A year later, the Brancheau Family issued the following statement this week on their web site for The Dawn Brancheau Foundation finally breaking their silence about the documentary:

"There has recently been an abundance of attention focused on the film 'Blackfish.' As the family of Dawn Brancheau, we are continually asked how we feel about the movie. We would like to take this opportunity to write briefly about the film so we can move on and continue our efforts to make the world a better place in honor of Dawn.

First and foremost, we are not affiliated with this movie in any way. We did not assist with its creation and were unaware of its content until the film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. The Dawn Brancheau Foundation as well as our family members have never and will never accept any compensation from its production.

The film has brought a great deal of attention to the welfare of animals, and for that we are grateful. However, 'Blackfish' is not Dawn's story. Dawn Brancheau believed in the ethical treatment of animals. Dawn followed her dreams and became a marine animal trainer. She loved the whales and was proud of her work as a trainer. Dawn thrived on introducing the whales to the audience and educating them about the animals in her care. Dawn would not have remained a trainer at SeaWorld for 15 years if she felt that the whales were not well cared for. Trainer safety was important to Dawn, and it remains important to us as well. Our family always supported Dawn and we continue to support Dawn's friends and co-workers who currently care for the animals she so loved.

Since Dawn's death nearly four years ago, the media has focused mainly on the whales. A human life was lost that day and it feels as though some believe her death was just a footnote. Dawn's death is central to our story. In 2010, we created the Dawn Brancheau Foundation in her honor to continue the legacy of the work important to Dawn during her life. The Foundation focuses on improving the lives of children and animals in need, inspiring others to follow their dreams, and promoting the importance of community service. The Foundation will continue its efforts to make a difference in our world. We are grateful for all the caring individuals who help us keep Dawn's light shining brightly. The Family of Dawn Brancheau will not be making any further statements and we ask that our privacy be respected."

In the months after the fatal event, the Brancheau Family fought for a court ruling for their request to keep private a video of the fatal attack (recorded by SeaWorld's surveillance cameras) blocked from media and the public.

They hired Chicago attorney John Mills, who argued "the family's right to privacy outweighed the public's right to view the video."

"There is no constitutional right to voyeurism and there is a constitutional right to privacy," said Mills in a statement, fighting the material becoming public under Florida law after the Orange County Sheriff's Office concluded investigation.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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