SeaWorld’s Shamu show offers tribute to slain trainer

Hundreds of patrons packed into Shamu Stadium on Saturday for the return of SeaWorld Orlando’s “Believe” show, three days after a killer whale dragged a veteran animal trainer underwater to her death.

Despite a morning drizzle, visitors stood in line for two hours beginning at 9 a.m. to see the first performance. The show featured a tribute to Dawn Brancheau, who drowned Wednesday after the orca Tilikum yanked her by her ponytail and pulled her underwater.

Billy Grady and his family, tourists from Georgia, returned to the park to see the show after it was canceled Friday. The father of three said he was moved by the tribute, which included photos of Brancheau hugging and swimming with killer whales.

“It brought tears to my eyes. She died doing what she loved,” Grady, 33, said.

The 6-ton Tilikum did not perform. There was no dramatic lifting of trainers out of the water during the show. And there was a noticeably larger number of SeaWorld employees on hand watching every detail of the action.

None of the female trainers wore ponytails; all had their hair tied in buns.

Park officials have said trainers and killer whales will not be in the water together until park staffers and local officials finish investigating the circumstances of Brancheau’s death.

Trainers instructed the orcas using hand signals to leap, twirl and wave to the audience, while providing plenty of big splashes for the audience, which had been Tilikum’s primary duty. At the conclusion, the audience rose to give the 18 trainers a standing ovation.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA, sponsored a protest at the main gate of the park.