There's an eerily timely connection between the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, who was killed Wednesday by the killer whale she was training, and the documentary The Cove, which is the frontrunner to win the Oscar for best documentary feature next Sunday, March 7.  The documentary is about dolphins that are slaughtered by fishermen outside a town in Japan after they are rejected by aquatic theme park operators looking for the next dolphin star. The film's main subject, Ric O' Barry, trained the famous dolphin Flipper, but has since dedicated his life to freeing dolphins and other sea mammals from theme parks. Today, O' Barry and David Phillips, of the Earth Island Institute, released a statement about Brancheau's death, and called for a federal investigation into SeaWorld's actions surrounding the tragedy.

"It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Dawn Brancheau, who by all accounts was a loving and talented caretaker for Tilikum (Tilly), the killer whale who took her life at SeaWorld Orlando just days ago," the said in a statement. "Along with sadness of this tragic event we can't help feeling anger toward those who insist upon exhibiting these wild creatures in habitats that can drive them to violence. Dependent on sonar/sound to navigate their vast ocean homes, dolphins and whales are in constant state of distress living in cramped pools, bombarded by noise, stressed by food deprivation and forced to perform.

"We understand the love these trainers must feel for the orcas they train, but make no mistake – this wasn't just a terrible accident, it was a calculated risk on the part of a billion dollar captive dolphin and whale industry.  Facts suggest that SeaWorld was well aware of Tilicum's deadly attack on trainers.

"SeaWorld allowed public and trainer contact with an orca that was a known risk, and after 3 deaths they're suggesting that it actually continue.  SeaWorld has been admonished in the past by an official with the US National Marine Fisheries Service for failure to take prudent and precautionary steps with Tilicum's health and welfare.

"The latest claims that Tilicum was distracted by the trainer's ponytail are absurd and force us to infer that SeaWorld is guilty of negligence and that it is now trying to cover up repeated deadly orca attacks by resorting to outrageous and disingenuous claims.

"We believe this situation warrants the immediate initiation of a federal investigation into SeaWorld's possible negligence and violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.Further information suggests that SeaWorld has covered up additional acts of orca attacks in order to protect its multi-million dollar investment in these creatures and the millions more they make on the backs of their performances.

"Finally, we find their claims about conservation and education shallow. If these shows are meant to encourage people to help save these precious creatures then why aren't they doing more to end the brutal slaughter of thousands and thousands of dolphins and whales off the coast of Japan, Norway and the Southern Seas. Instead, they turn a blind eye, when they could dedicate significant resources to stopping it.

"Overall, we believe the conduct of SeaWorld in this matter is reprehensible.  SeaWorld's actions are a gross threat to dolphins, whales, and people and should not be allowed to stand.These animals belong in the wild."

A phone call to SeaWorld's Orlando, Florida, press office went directly to voice mail. A call to SeaWorld's security office said the press office was closed for the weekend and the only way to reach the press office was via email. An email to SeaWorld seeking comment was not immediately returned.

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