There’s big news today in a case that PETA has been
tenaciously pursuing for some time: Consistent with the citations issued against SeaWorld in 2010, Administrative Law Judge Ken Welsch of the Occupational Safety and
Health Review Commission (OSHRC) found that SeaWorld is culpable for allowing
its employees to interact directly with potentially dangerous orcas.
SeaWorld Knew the
For years, PETA has implored SeaWorld to transfer the marine
mammals it enslaves to transitional coastal sanctuaries because confining animals
of such great size to severely inadequate tanks leads to miserable lives of
desperation and frustration—and dangerous conditions for SeaWorld staffers.
After one orca, Tilikum, killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in front of horrified visitors at SeaWorld Orlando, PETA urged the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to pursue a citation against SeaWorld
and provided it with compiled research on the history of deaths and injuries at
the park and orca aggression in captivity. Today’s OSHRC decision affirms that
SeaWorld knew that allowing its employees to interact directly with orcas such
as Tilikum could have serious or fatal results.
A History of
While the judge modified the citation for “willful”
violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to “serious,”
adjusting the fine accordingly, he found that SeaWorld knew that there was a “substantial probability that
death or serious physical harm could result” from these
interactions, yet it continued to allow them. He found SeaWorld’s arguments
that it wasn’t aware of these hazards to be implausible and lambasted its corporate
culture of placing the blame for dangerous incidents exclusively on trainers
and discouraging trainers from stopping a show—even after an attack.
Information that came out of the testimony during a two-week
hearing before Judge Welsch, as well as during previous proceedings, includes the following:
- A senior trainer testified that trainers who
work with orcas receive special instruction on Tilikum as well as a “Tilly
Talk,” in which they’re informed of Tilikum’s involvement with two
previous deaths and that if they enter the water with him, they may not
survive. Despite these concerns, trainers were approved to work in close
proximity with him and physically touch him at the water’s edge.
- Chuck Tompkins, SeaWorld’s corporate curator for
zoological operations, testified that there are no specific steps for trainers
to follow to respond to a life-threatening situation in the water and that
their lives are ultimately up to their own “best judgment call.” Tompkins admitted
that the park does not even re-evaluate its protocols after an injury or death
because it deems the injuries “a
result of human error” and insisted that revising safety protocols
is unnecessary. He also claimed that SeaWorld has “gotten a whole lot better” with the
training process over time, despite, as government attorneys noted, the killing
of two trainers in a two-month span.
- No high-level managers of animal training at
SeaWorld are formally trained in animal behavior nor do they have any
professional experience with orcas other that what they learned on the job at
SeaWorld. In addition, the company has never called on an independent third
party to review its incidents, protocols, or safety procedures.
- Senior SeaWorld employees oversaw orca training
at Spain’s Loro Parque theme park when trainer Alexis Martinez was killed after
being rammed and dragged underwater by an orca named Keto—just two months
before Brancheau’s death. Judge Welsch saw through SeaWorld’s attempt to
distance itself from this park, as the killer whales are leased from SeaWorld, SeaWorld
trainer Brian Rokeach was stationed at Loro Parque to supervise animal
training, and all decisions about animal care and training were made in
conjunction with SeaWorld’s corporate headquarters.
While SeaWorld’s own corporate incident
log contains reports of more than 100 incidents of orca aggression at
its parks, government attorneys brought up incident after incident that
were left out of the log, including the attack leading to Brancheau’s death and
attacks by an orca who had a penchant for grabbing trainers’ ponytails. Yet despite the premature deaths of four human
beings—one from extensive internal bleeding—and more than 20 orcas at SeaWorld’s
parks, the company continues to put profits over humane concerns. Dawn
Brancheau would be alive today if SeaWorld had heeded PETA’s advice.
How You Can Help
Orcas at SeaWorld
Please join PETA in politely asking David Michaels, assistant
secretary of labor for
occupational safety and health,
to prohibit all direct contact with potentially dangerous animals. And, of
course, never, ever go to SeaWorld or any other marine-animal park.
Article source: PETA Files