In 1987, Joanne Webber, then 26, was working as an orca trainer at SeaWorld when a terrifying incident changed her life. While in the tank with Kandu V, a massive 6,000-pound orca, she suffered a broken neck. The orca had landed on her, forcing her to the bottom of the pool.



This wasn’t Kandu V’s first incident. The whale had a history of aggressive behavior. John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld trainer, heard about the incident later and recalled how Webber was in “excruciating pain,” shouting, “I think my neck is broken,” as she tried to escape the pool.


During a practice session, Kandu V leapt into the air and landed on Webber with full force, fracturing her neck and pushing her underwater. Webber later sued SeaWorld, and the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

After this incident, SeaWorld banned trainers from swimming with orcas. They maintained that their orcas were not aggressive and received top-notch care. However, Webber’s lawsuit claimed she was misled about the orcas being “gentle” and “safe.” She also alleged that her treatment was delayed as staff insisted she remove her wetsuit to avoid damaging it.



inherentlywild / Orcaholic

Webber wasn’t the only victim. Months before her attack, another trainer, Jonathan Smith, was also attacked by Kandu V and another orca. He suffered serious injuries and spent nine days in the hospital. His lawsuit, like Webber’s, was settled out of court.


Kandu V continued to perform until her tragic death in 1989. During a show, she began ramming another orca, Orkid, and broke her jaw, severing a major artery. Kandu V died in front of shocked visitors, spouting blood from her blowhole. SeaWorld described the incident as normal behavior for orcas, despite the tragic outcome.

In 2016, SeaWorld announced it would stop breeding orcas in captivity. Joanne Webber’s story resurfaced recently after two orcas attacked each other during a performance, reminding the world of the risks and tragedies that come with keeping these magnificent creatures in captivity.



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