The 11 Most Awful Incidents to Ever Happen at SeaWorld

For some, two of the most frightening things in the world are giant sea creatures and water parks, so why someone decided to combine those two things and create SeaWorld boggles some people's minds. Judging by some of the things that have happened at SeaWorld, the best you can hope for is to show up on a day that will have you waiting in long lines without the ability to really do anything, because the alternative seems too horrible to imagine. This list of awful SeaWorld incidents and SeaWorld slayings may have you turning in your season pass.

Not all of the people on this list were harmed by stray bits of park machinery or the sea life; some of them just suffered the misfortune of floating in a lazy river during a freak lightning storm.

From SeaWorld Orlando to SeaWorld San Diego, there have been many incidents at SeaWorld parks. Read on to learn more about these tragic SeaWorld slayings and other incidents and remember that as cute as SeaWorld animals seem, there is a dark side to these amusement parks.

Photo: Yathin S Krishnappa / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

  • A Man Drowned In The Orca Tank In Orlando

    On July 6, 1999, a 27-year-old homeless man named Daniel Dukes was found deceased in the orca tank, draped over the back of a whale named Tilikum. Dukes had visited SeaWorld the previous day, evaded security to stay after the park closed, and entered the tank.

    Authorities said it was unclear what possessed Dukes to climb into the tank with the massive beast. 

  • On February 24, 2010, Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer with 16 years of  experience, passed in an incident involving Tilikum. SeaWorld's head of animal training said that during a rubdown after the show, Tilikum possibly pulled the trainer into the water where she remained until it was too late.

    According to ABC News, Tilikum had lived at the park since the early 1990s and was one of eight killer whales in captivity there at the time of the incident. 

  • A Killer Whale Beached Herself At A SeaWorld-Owned Property

    In 2016, Morgan, an orca at SeaWorld-owned Loro Parque in Spain, fully beached herself on the concrete side of her pool. Onlookers said she was fully out the water and motionless for nine minutes after a show.

    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." National Geographic disputed this, saying that Morgan was likely trying to get away from other whales in the tank with which she was not likely socially compatible. 

  • Orca Accosted Inexperienced Trainer Jonathan Smith

    In 1987, two orcas grabbed trainer Jonathan Smith, who very little experience working with the animals. They dragged him across the pool. Though he survived the attack, he suffered extensive harm. 

    Smith later filed suit against SeaWorld, claiming that the company had not warned him about the "dangerous propensities of killer whales" and assured him his lack of experience would not be a danger to him.  

  • John Sillick Was Severely Harmed During A Show

    In 1987, trainer John Sillick fractured his vertebrae, femur, and pelvis when one of the orcas fell on him as he rode atop another whale during a performance in the tank. 

    The incident prompted new safety protocols for trainers during live performances with the orcas. 

  • A Mechanical Boat Malfunction Hurt Several People

    At SeaWorld Ohio, which was later sold and became the now-closed Geauga Lake, a driver lost control of his boat during a Baywatch-themed water-ski stunt show. Allegedly suffering mechanical failure, the boat crashed into the fifth row of the stadium, harming numerous spectators.