Trainer’s horrifying death as SeaWorld killer whale ‘bit his body and tore his organs’

For his whole life Keto has never been able to swim in the open ocean – instead he is confined to a swimming pool where he spends his days entertaining crowds of tourists.

Born in 1995 to Kalina, who herself was the first orca to be born in a SeaWorld theme park, Keto has also sired several calves while in captivity.

The huge killer whale is one of the key attractions at Loro Parque in Tenerife and has also been transported around the world to entertain crowds.

He has performed at theme parks in San Diego, Ohio and Texas before he was moved to his current Spanish home.

Just three years after his final move something in Keto snapped and he launched a terrifying and fatal attack on one of his trainers, Alexis Martínez.

Alexis was used to working with orcas after being a trainer for several years and the 29-year-old was very familiar with Keto.

But, then on Christmas Eve, 2009, the huge orca reacted in a way that had never been seen by his trainers before – and Alexis paid the ultimate price.

The trainer and whale were working on the Christmas show in a training pool and everything seemed normal – but then the giant orca started to behave strangely.

He failed to perform several of his moves correctly but seemed calm as he floated on the surface of the pool with his trainer, Alexis.

However, in the days after the horrifying incident, one of the other staff working at Loro Parque said he noticed Keto seemed to have deliberately positioned himself between his trainer and the stage.

It was when the underwater stage call came, and Alexis started to swim, that Keto began leaning into his trainer.

Another trainer used controls that had always worked with the orcas, but Keto refused to respond and pushed Alexis to the bottom of the pool using his rostrum, which is the tip of his snout or beak.

Desperate, the trainer still on the side of the pool, realised how serious the situation now was and tried other signals to bring Keto under control.

It seemed to work and the orca returned to the surface of the pool and took a breath – but within seconds he dived back down to Alexis.

The next horrifiying sight those watching saw was Keto resurface with Alexis on the tip of his rostrum and his mouth closed.

Finally, Keto released Alexis bu the 29-year-old trainer sank to the bottom of the pool.

Now frantic, the other trainers desperately tried to lure Keto, who is owned by SeaWorld, into another pool, although he seemed to resist by playing with the gate.

It was only when they released a net into the pool that he swam into the neighbouring body of water and Alexis’ body could be recovered from the bottom.

He had suffered horrific injuries, including massive internal bleeding, and nothing could be done to save him.

Alexis’ post-mortem stated he had “died due to grave injuries sustained by an orca attack, including multiple compression fractures, tears to vital organs, and the bite marks of the animal on his body”.

Heartbreakingly, his death came exactly two months before SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau was killed in front of thousands of spectators at the attraction in Orlando, Florida.

Dawn, who had achieved her goal of becoming a senior trainer at Seaworld at the time of her tragic death, had studied psychology and animal behaviours at university.

When she graduated, she spent two years working with dolphins at an attraction in New Jersey before landing her job at Seaworld.

Two years after Dawn started work at Seaworld, she became a killer whale trainer.

She made sure she was as fit and healthy as possible so she could manage to rigours of swimming with the huge beasts from the deep.

Dawn was one of the star trainers at Seaworld – she was key to the killer whale shows and her face was seen on billboards advertising the park.

Chillingly, four years before her tragic death, 10 years ago today, Dawn had spoken out about the dangers of working with orcas.

She had a special relationship with the huge killer whale, Tilikum, also known as Blackfish.

He was one of the largest orcas at SeaWorld and he had been in captivity for more than 30 years.

Those who worked with her said their bond was strong and based on love and trust.

John Hargrove, who was a senior trainer at Seaworld at the time of Dawn’s death, said: “We’ll never know why Tilikum made that choice to grab Dawn and pull her into the pool.

“He had a great relationship with her, and she had a great relationship with him. I do believe that he loved her, and I know that she loved him.”

It was after one of the Dine With Shamu shows that Tilikum carried out his brutal act.

Tourists could watch the action as they ate and Dawn had climbed out of the pool.

She was lying with her face next to Tilikum’s – the orca she had spent countless hours with and who had always treated her as a trusted companion.

Suddenly, Dawn was dragged into the water. Initially it was claimed she had been pulled into the pool by her ponytail, but there were later suggestions Tilikum had grabbed her by her shoulder.

What came next was truly gruesome.

Tilikum didn’t just kill his trainer, the attack was prolonged and incredibly violent.

Dawn, 40, was not only drowned, her left arm was torn from its socket, Dawn was scalped with her hair and skin found at the bottom of the pool.

Horrifically, her spinal cord was severed, while she also suffered from broken ribs, a broken jaw and a post-mortem revealed she died from both drowning and blunt force injury.

Chillingly, the captive whale killed his trainer and then refused to release her body.

For 45 minutes, he kept Dawn’s broken body on the pool with him, despite attempts from the other trainers to distract him with nets and food.

Eventually, they managed to get him into a smaller, medical pool, where he was easier to calm and he finally released the body of the trainer who had spent so much time with him.

Following Dawn’s death, Tilikum was sent to spend most of his days in a pool rarely seen by the public.

There are reports that he would spend hours on end just lying on the surface of the water. Tilikum died at the Florida attraction in January 2017.

Six years after Dawn’s death SeaWorld announced they would end their programme of breeding the orcas in captivity.

Instead the attraction now works with the Humane Society of the United States to work against commercial whaling and seal hunts.

SeaWorld also campaigns against shark finning and ocean pollution and has switched its focus to rescue operations.