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Whale kills trainer in front of SeaWorld audience in Orlando

Thursday, February 25, 2010; A02

FLORIDA

Whale kills trainer at SeaWorld Orlando

A five-ton orca, or killer whale, grabbed a veteran trainer at SeaWorld Orlando and pulled her into its tank Wednesday, where it inflicted fatal injuries, park officials said.

Trainer Dawn Brancheau was rubbing the whale, named Tilikum, after a noontime show when it grabbed her, said Chuck Tompkins, head of animal training at all SeaWorld parks.

Tilikum had been involved with two previous human deaths, one at the Orlando amusement park. In 1999, Daniel Dukes, 27, either jumped, fell or was pulled into the frigid water of Tilikum's huge tank after the park had closed. Tilikum was one of three orcas blamed for killing a trainer in 1991 after the woman lost her balance and fell in the pool at Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia.

Park guest Victoria Biniak told WKMG-TV that the whale "took off really fast in the tank, and then he came back, shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started thrashing around, and one of her shoes flew off."

"He was thrashing her around pretty good," Biniak said. "It was violent." The guests were asked to leave and the park was closed.

-- Associated Press

HEALTH

H1N1 a threat despite decline, WHO says

The World Health Organization urged nations around the world Wednesday to remain vigilant about the H1N1 pandemic, saying it is too early to declare that the threat had peaked.

The spread of the virus has slowed or declined in many parts of the world, including the United States and Western Europe. But experts remain concerned because the virus had started to spread in West Africa and winter is still to come in the Southern Hemisphere, the agency said.

A 15-member emergency committee, which met for two hours Tuesday, "advised that it was premature to conclude that all parts of the world have experienced peak transmission of the H1N1 pandemic influenza," WHO Director General Margaret Chan said in a statement.

The WHO will continue its highest pandemic alert but will modify its advice, telling countries to "maintain" instead of "intensify" surveillance of the virus.

-- Rob Stein

NATIONAL SECURITY

Senate lets Patriot Act provisions stand

The Senate voted Wednesday to extend for a year key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the nation's counterterrorism surveillance law, that are scheduled to expire at the end of the month.

The Senate approved the bill on a voice vote with no debate, as Democrats retreated from adding new privacy protections. The bill now goes to the House.

The expiring provisions cover three important sections of the Patriot Act. One authorizes court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones. A second allows court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations. A third permits surveillance against a non-U.S. citizen suspected of engaging in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.

-- Associated Press

NASA

Lawmakers question request for resources

NASA's chief defended his agency's mission before lawmakers on Wednesday, saying that it needs to spend years upgrading its technology to have any hope of reaching other planets.

But skeptical members of the Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee told Administrator Charles Bolden that NASA needs to go somewhere specific, not just talk about it.

"Resources without vision is a waste of time and money," Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said, vowing to fight the Obama plan for NASA "with every ounce of energy have."

"We want to go to Mars," Bolden said Wednesday. "We can't get there right now because we don't have the technology to do it."

-- Associated Press

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