March 31, 2011 / 12:21 AM / 8 years ago

Whale that killed SeaWorld trainer returns to shows

Tillikum, a killer whale at SeaWorld amusement park, performs during the show "Believe" in Orlando, in this September 3, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger/Files

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla (Reuters Life!) - The killer whale that last year drowned a trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, performed publicly on Wednesday for the first time since the death.

Park officials had long anticipated the return of Tilikum, a 12,000-pound orca bull, saying such performances are vital for the animal’s health.

“Participating in shows is just a portion of Tilikum’s day, but we feel it is an important component of his physical, social and mental enrichment,” animal training curator Kelly Flaherty Clark said in a prepared statement.

Trainers have been interacting regularly with Tilikum, officials said, though in a more limited way since the whale grabbed 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau by the hair in February 2010 and pulled her underwater in front of park visitors.

The “Believe” show featuring Tilikum on Wednesday once had trainers performing acrobatics with the killer whales, but SeaWorld currently bans trainers from entering the water.

Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton

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