Editor's Note: This is a file profile of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed during an incident with one of the whales at the park today.
Dawn Brancheau steps to the edge of the pool, reaches in and splashes the surface of the 54-degree water.
A moment later a 5,000-pound killer whale swims to the surface and opens its gigantic mouth in wait of a salmon snack.
Brancheau, 36, promptly places a whole fish on the whale's tongue and rubs down her slick head.
As one of SeaWorld Orlando's leading trainers of its main attraction -- the killer whales tourists know as Shamu -- Brancheau knows her relationship with the giant mammals is vital to the job.
And it has been key in SeaWorld's effort to launch the first major update of its signature Shamu show in nearly a decade.
The remake of the show, coming this year, is SeaWorld's latest effort to step up its offerings in increasingly competitive leisure markets in Orlando and at its locations in San Antonio, Texas, and San Diego.
More than ever, theme park-goers today expect technologically advanced and fresh attractions that have never been seen before.
The big Orlando parks -- Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld -- have recently boosted the thrill factor on rides and the wow factor on shows, a trend expected to continue in 2006.
"This is at a time when people's sense of entertainment is at a high level," Brancheau said. "We're making the biggest change we've ever made."
The new Shamu show, which will feature new interactions between the whales and their trainers, is scheduled to debut in May.
Brancheau worked her way into a leadership role at Shamu Stadium during her 12-year career with SeaWorld, starting at the Sea Lion & Otter Stadium before spending the past 10 years working with killer whales.
It was a trip to SeaWorld at age 9 that set her on that career goal.
"I remember walking down the aisle [of Shamu Stadium] and telling my mom, `This is what I want to do,' " she recalled recently.
The new show is the product of three years of work now in the final editing stage and will feature music written specifically for the whales and their movements as well as new underwater shots and monitors.
The show is designed to be inspirational, leaving the audience with the notion that if people can swim with killer whales they can achieve anything.
The dangers of the job don't go unacknowledged.
"You can't put yourself in the water unless you trust them and they trust you," Brancheau said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times