The killer whale that was involved in the high-profile death of a trainer in February 2010 is to return to live performances at the park from Wednesday, March 30.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Tilikum, a 6-ton male, will feature in the 11.30am performance of the Believe show. It would be the first public appearance for the whale since the incident on February 24, 2010, when 12-year SeaWorld veteran Dawn Brancheau was pulled into the water by her ponytail and drowned following a show.
SeaWorld's Curator of Animal Training, Julie Scardina, has previously said that Tilikum will return to live shows "when the time is right". The company claims that participating in the shows is important for the orca's "physical, social and mental enrichment".
However, Tilikum is not expected to form part of plans for trainers to return to the water during the shows, and is the only one of SeaWorld's orcas not be undergoing full "water desensitization" training in advance of the move. The company is yet to set a firm timeline for the return of in-water trainer interactions.
SeaWorld plans to invest "tens of millions" of dollars to install new safety features at its parks in Orlando, San Diego and California. These will include false-bottom floors in major show venues, as well as special underwater vehicles that could be used to distract whales in the event of trainers running into difficulties. Trainers will also be equipped with breathing regulators that will provide two-to-five minutes of air in emergencies.
All three SeaWorld parks will open an all-new killer show dubbed One Ocean in 2011, replacing the long-running Believe show. One Ocean will feature water fountains, and the orcas will continue to splash guests in the audience as in previous SeaWorld shows. Spectacular aerial stunts and sections featuring multiple whales will help compensate for the initial lack of human-whale in-water interaction.
The new show has been in development for over a year, and will feature an educational message that is designed to inspire guests to "celebrate, connect and care" for the ocean. It will debut at SeaWorld Orlando in late April, at SeaWorld San Diego on Memorial Day weekend (May 28-30) and at SeaWorld San Antonio by June.