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California warns SeaWorld over whale trainer risk

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Published: March 2, 2007 at 9:48 AM

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health set up a battle with SeaWorld San Diego in a report released this week, warning that it is only a matter of time before one of the park's orcas kills a trainer.

The report was in response to an incident last year when a killer whale dragged a trainer under water.

The LA Times provides the details. The state lauded SeaWorld's training and declined to cite the park for any safety violations. But it noted an inherent risk in working with large, carnivorous animals.

SeaWorld ripped the state report, meeting with the state agency's district manager and asking him to withdraw the report.

"We have proven over 40 years that we are very safe," Mike Scarpuzzi, vice president of zoological operations at SeaWorld San Diego and a former whale trainer, told the LA Times.

"The emergency procedures worked," he said to the paper. "We have a whale and a trainer, and both are alive. That's a successful end."

Update: Just got this from Busch corporate:

I saw your post on the California thing. We had a call with Cal OSHA today and they have agreed to rescind the informational memorandum (the document on which Tony Perry's [LA Times] story is based) as well as rewrite the 13,000-word narrative summary. From the release that we expect to issue today:

"Cal OSHA has decided to withdraw its informational memorandum and further review the narrative summary with the goal of rewriting the document to correct all deficiencies as they relate to its safety investigation of the Nov. 29, 2006 killer whale incident. SeaWorld officials expressed their surprise and serious concerns with the reports pointing out that they are riddled with inaccuracies, speculation and superficial suppositions, information unrelated to the investigation, and unsubstantiated and overreaching conclusions. Much of the information presented in the reports reflected a complete lack of understanding of the complexities of marine mammal biology, behavior and husbandry."

Readers' Opinions

From Derek Potter on March 2, 2007 at 11:07 AM
How long have they been open again...40 years right. How many accidents have there been besides the recent one?

Sounds like political BS to me, or some kind of a legal back door just in case something happens. Or it could be OSHA trying to throw their weight around (probably a combination of the three). The department made some general statements about orcas, but do they really have any idea about what they are and how they behave? "Its a big animal with sharp teeth" is a gem. Those weren't the exact words, but thats what they meant...as if the people at SeaWorld and everyone whos seen a picture of an orca don't know this.

There is and has always been an risk to trainers...just like there is a risk with zookeepers and other animal handlers. If you issue a public statement to SeaWorld, than you issue it to all zoos, animal shows, dog shows, reptile farms...etc. Thats why the whole thing reeks of politics. SeaWorld has every right to bash this report because it's bad publicity, and I have doubts as to whether or not OSHA even has a clue on killer whales/marine life, or SeaWorld operations.

From David Kirby on March 2, 2007 at 2:03 PM
Why did it take them 3 months to come out with this report???
From Fred Jacobs on March 2, 2007 at 3:13 PM
From the news release we will issue this afternoon:

"Cal OSHA has decided to withdraw its informational memorandum and further review the narrative summary with the goal of rewriting the document to correct all deficiencies as they relate to its safety investigation of the Nov. 29, 2006 killer whale incident. SeaWorld officials expressed their surprise and serious concerns with the reports pointing out that they are riddled with inaccuracies, speculation and superficial suppositions, information unrelated to the investigation, and unsubstantiated and overreaching conclusions. Much of the information presented in the reports reflected a complete lack of understanding of the complexities of marine mammal biology, behavior and husbandry."

Fred Jacobs
Anheuser-Busch Adventure Parks

From Fred Jacobs on March 2, 2007 at 8:12 PM
This news release was issued by Cal OSHA this afternoon.

Cal/OSHA Revisits its Reports on Sea World Investigation

San Diego—On February 27, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health
(Cal/OSHA) concluded its investigation into the November accident at Sea World
in San Diego. As a result, Sea World was issued a citation alleging two
non-serious violations of occupational safety and health standards and an
“information memorandum.” In issuing the “information memorandum,” Cal/OSHA
violated its own policies and procedures. This error is being addressed and
Cal/OSHA regrets the difficulties it may have caused Sea World, its staff, and
its patrons.

Cal/OSHA realized its error when it met with Sea World officials yesterday to
discuss these reports. As a result, Cal/OSHA will take corrective action,
including withdrawing the “Information Memorandum” in accordance with its
policies and procedures. According to written Cal/OSHA policy and procedure, an
“Information Memorandum” is issued to advise employers when conditions that
violate occupational safety and health standards are found, but there is no
evidence that employees have been exposed to those conditions; it alerts
employers so that action can be taken to eliminate those conditions or to ensure
that no employee is exposed to them. In the case of Sea World, the “Information
Memorandum” addressed conditions that were fully in compliance with existing
regulations; therefore, there was no basis for it.

Additionally, Cal/OSHA will thoroughly review the “Narrative Summary,” an
18-page supplemental report in the file, and will make any necessary revisions
to conform with Cal/OSHA policies and procedures. Cal/OSHA acknowledges that
many of the statements made in the “Narrative Summary” require expertise in
animal behavior, which Cal/OSHA does not have. Also, some of the expressions of
opinion and other statements contained in the report stray from describing the
evidence and are clearly inappropriate.

Finally, at least three of the recommendations found in the “Information
Memorandum” reflect actions Sea World has already implemented or has taken under
consideration. Accordingly, the company’s actions are fully consistent with the
type of procedural review requested by this document.

From Larry Zimmerman on March 3, 2007 at 7:43 PM
Let's review the bidding - a four-ton carnivorous whale could see a trainer as a 170-pound, neoprene-coated snack. It's not a big reach to assume that sooner or later Shamu's jaws will go snicker-snak and sample that long pig that's been holding out on his fish supply. Don't get me wrong, I love SW and watching the interplay between trainers and large sea mammals. But that's not Flipper out there. It's dangerous work. The parks mitigate the danger to a large extent and put on a great show. But let's hope that whatever occasionally causes large marine mammals to beach themselves doesn't suddenly afflict Shamu while he's got a trainer on his nose.
From Larry Zimmerman on March 3, 2007 at 7:51 PM
(Deleted redundant post)

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