Dawn Therese Brancheau (née LoVerde, April 16, 1969 – February 24, 2010) was an American senior animal trainer at SeaWorld. She worked with orcas at SeaWorld Orlando for fifteen years, including a leading role in revamping the Shamu show, and was SeaWorld's poster girl. She was killed by an orca, Tilikum, becoming the only SeaWorld trainer to be killed by an animal. However, her death was the third fatality associated with Tilikum, and many other trainers have been seriously injured by orcas.
On February 24, 2010, Brancheau performed a Dine with Shamu show with Tilikum, the largest orca at SeaWorld Orlando. In this setting, guests ate at an open-air restaurant while watching the performance poolside as the orca was exercised and fed. As part of the end-of-show routine, she was at the edge of the pool, rubbing Tilikum's head. She was lying with her face next to Tilikum's on a slide-out, which is a platform submerged about a foot into the water. Sources stated that she was pulled into the water by her ponytail; the orca's move seems to have been very quick, pulling her underwater and drowning her. At least a dozen patrons witnessed Brancheau in the water with Tilikum. Employees used nets and threw food at Tilikum in an attempt to distract him. Moving from pool to pool in the complex, they eventually directed Tilikum to a smaller, medical pool, where it would be easier to calm him. The orca subsequently released Brancheau's body.
The autopsy report said that Brancheau died from drowning and blunt force trauma. Her spinal cord was severed, and she had sustained fractures to her jawbone, ribs, and a cervical vertebra. Her scalp was completely torn off from her head, her left arm had been ripped off near the shoulder, and her left elbow and left knee had been dislocated.
Brancheau was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Worth Township, Cook County, Illinois.
No SeaWorld trainer entered a pool to perform a show with an orca following Brancheau's death. Immediately afterwards, SeaWorld disallowed trainers from being in the water with any orca