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Federal ruling might mean the end of trainers swimming with orcas at SeaWorld parks

By Robert Niles
Published: August 23, 2010 at 10:52 AM
Will SeaWorld's trainers ever get to swim with orcas again?

The U.S. federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration today fined SeaWorld Orlando $75,000 for violations found in an investigation following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau last February. The park's six-ton Tilikum whale attacked and drowned Brancheau when she was lying on a shallow ledge along the edge of the orca tank in Orlando.

From OSHA's press release:

In addition to the history with this whale, the OSHA investigation revealed that SeaWorld trainers had an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities, including its location in Orlando. Despite this record, management failed to make meaningful changes to improve the safety of the work environment for its employees.

"All employers are obligated to assess potential risks to the safety and health of their employees and take actions to mitigate those risks," said Les Grove, OSHA's area director in Tampa, Fla. "In facilities that house wild animals, employers need to assess the animals under their care and to minimize human-animal interaction if there is no safe way to reliably predict animal behavior under all conditions."

The fine is a pittance for a multi-billion-dollar business such as SeaWorld. But OSHA's also imposing new work restrictions on SeaWorld trainers. No more contact with Tilikum, unless separated by a physical barrier. And no more in-pool contact with the other orcas, either, unless SeaWorld devises some system to protect trainers from attacks.

Perhaps not surprisingly, SeaWorld's contesting the citation:

The tragic accident on February 24, 2010 inspired an internal review of our whale program that has been unprecedented in scope. The findings of that review have been presented to an independent committee made up of some of the world’s most respected marine mammal experts. Their conclusions, drawn from decades of experience caring for marine mammals, are in stark contrast to OSHA’s.

Unless SeaWorld prevails, this would mean the end to that iconic moment at SeaWorld parks when trainers launch off the nose of a killer whale, out of the pool and into the air.

Trainer and killer whale at SeaWorld

Theme Park Insider readers were skeptical in a vote last winter that SeaWorld would stop using completely marine mammals in live performances. But today's citation will change the way that SeaWorld interacts with those animals, at least for the next several months.

Readers' Opinions

From Jacob Sundstrom on August 23, 2010 at 11:03 AM
My initial reaction? Screw OSHA. If the trainers are willing to perform these stunts with these animals, let them. They know the risks. They know the dangers. If that's what they choose to do, that's what they choose to do.
From 98.188.104.235 on August 23, 2010 at 11:15 AM
very sad, but these trainers know the what could happen when they start working with these whales. orcas are very soical animals too and they bonds with there trainers.
From Tim W on August 23, 2010 at 11:23 AM
I've got to agree, they know the risks that come with this job. I understand where OSHA is coming from by wanting to protect the trainers, but it is their choice to take on such a dangerous job. Theres other jobs that pose possible threat as well. If possible, more safety precautions should just be taken.
From TH Creative on August 23, 2010 at 12:05 PM
This "They know the risks" approach does not wash with me. It misses the point.

From OSHA: "In addition to the history with this whale, the OSHA investigation revealed that SeaWorld trainers had an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities, including its location in Orlando. Despite this record, management failed to make meaningful changes to improve the safety of the work environment for its employees."

The citation claims there have been recorded dangerous incidents and after these incidents "management failed to make meaningful changes to improve the safety of the work environment for its employees." So while the trainers know the risks associated with their jobs, that doesn't have anything to do with improper actions (or inactions) by management after an incident occurs and is recorded.

As Robert notes Sea World is contesting the charges. I for one hope they win.

But still I find it increasingly likely that the trainers will soon be out of the water. First, any arbitrating body or judge that has to make a decision about Sea World vs. OSHA is gonna ask themselves "what if I let them back in the water and one of them dies?"

Secondly, Sea World's parent Blackwell also owns Merlin Entertainment -- an attraction operator that maintains animals at parks around the world. Merlin is very expressive when it comes to its corporate policy regarding animals at attractions: animals are to be on display only and are not to perform.

It would not surprise me to learn that Blackwell elects to restrict significant portions of the performance mode of the attraction and re-write the show keeping trainers out of the water.

But that may not be a bad thing. Seriously, if you remove the trainers from the water does that really reduce the exhilaration that comes with watching a fish the size of a bus launch into the air?

From Derek Potter on August 23, 2010 at 12:11 PM
So what makes swimming with an orca that much more dangerous than say...working on electric lines or building a skyscraper? Isn't swimming with dolphins or cleaning a shark tank dangerous as well? Why don't they ban those practices as well?

Yes there have been some accidents in the past, but here's the question. Is it that much more dangerous for a trained person to swim with a trained whale than it is for somebody to work in another potentially hazardous environment? Also note the fact that those who train and swim with these animals know exactly what they are getting into. If people were that worried about this stuff, they wouldn't become a trainer in the first place.

Sounds to me like OSHA is sticking their nose in just because they can. If I were a betting man, I would say that it only marginally has anything to do with safety, because the research completely conflicts with OSHA's ruling, and the expert whale trainers still have no problem getting in the water with an orca. I think there is more to the story.

From Robert Niles on August 23, 2010 at 12:22 PM
At some point, if you are caring for an animal, you're going to have to have contact with it. SeaWorld takes vital signs on the orcas every day, for example. So complete lack of contact is not feasible. Then question then becomes: Under what conditions do we have contact?

Long term, we're heading in the direction of the Merlin policy, IMHO. (Full disclosure: That's not my desire, but simply how I'm reading the tea leaves here.) That's why I think it would be smart for SeaWorld to start leveraging "Shamu" as a character, rather than an actual whale, and to continue developing attractions such as Manta and Wild Arctic - ones which display animals in the context of themed rides and shows, rather than making the animals the performers themselves.

From steve lee on August 23, 2010 at 1:07 PM
Has OSHA made a ruling regarding the free beer at the parks? Seems like every time Sea World comes up, that's all people want to complain about.
From Joshua Counsil on August 23, 2010 at 1:24 PM
Any safety board I've ever dealt with is over-the-top with their restrictions. Like Derek said, they're doing this because they can; it makes them look like they're doing their job.

Regardless, I was never a fan of the human-animal interactions in the live shows. I'm not even a fan of the animals performing at all. A well-done exhibit is much more up my alley. On that note, many of SeaWorld's exhibits need some re-imagining. They are far too cramped, both for the animals and the tourists.

From Helena Polansky on August 23, 2010 at 1:32 PM
Im glad this is happening but I know a lot of people will be mad about it. I just hope this will lead to no more animal captivity?
From Robert Niles on August 23, 2010 at 2:06 PM
Be careful what you wish for. The end of animal captivity would lead soon to a severe decline in support for animal habitat and species preservation.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Recent news should teach us that human beings have an immense ability to deny science and to simply pretend that reality doesn't exist. Without zoos and animal parks to "prove" to people that species from orcas and elephants actually exist, and to forge emotional connections between people and these animals, many Americans will cease to care about their future or survival. And animals will be far worse off for that.

From Jeffrey Hernandez on August 23, 2010 at 3:44 PM
I hope SeaWorld finds a solution to this situation. I went to see Shamu Rocks in July and it was rather boring compared to previous years.
From Bruce Lane on August 23, 2010 at 5:51 PM
I would be very curious to see the full report, including details of these 'other incidents' OSHA is alluding to. In fact, I would want to read the full report, in detail, before I ventured any firm opinions about the issue.

Thankfully, if I recall correctly, OSHA investigations are a matter of public record. Even if they're restricted in some way I'm not aware of, a FOIA request should take care of it (since it's hardly related to 'national security.')

My gut reaction: I don't agree with keeping the trainers out of the water completely. Yes, there is bonding which goes on. I've seen it in others, and had the privilege of experiencing it myself, and I absolutely believe it is a critical factor in helping to maintain the good health of the whales (mental, primarily).

Outside of that -- I've got research to do. More comments once I get done.

Happy travels.

From Carrie Hood on August 23, 2010 at 6:27 PM
I think Robert has an amazing point which most people wouldn't consider in the mania to free animals not only from Seaworld but Zoo's worldwide. Not just for the human element but for scientific benefits as well, the more we know the better we can help.

I also agree with Bruce about wanting to read the full report to see exact what they are detailing.

As to some of the accident's OSHA is possibly reporting I'd hazard to guess it's anything from "Slip and Fall" to "Didn't move in time, hit the tank". I've seen the old blooper reel Seaworld used to run during the daytime show many years ago. I've also witnesses my fair share of trainers busting behinds from sliding on a wet stage. Although I'd be willing to bet a large sum of money (if I had any) that their looking at all trainer accidents not just involving the Orcas. I'd also put into that lump sum any accidents that happened involving not only trainers but all animal care who are not in the shows that could involve any number of things from "reached the wrong way" to "animal bite".

If anyone finds a full listing of the report online, could they please post it? Should be interesting.

From Charles Reichley on August 23, 2010 at 9:07 PM
Well, people are killed by dogs every day, so maybe they should require a physical barrier at the pet show as well.

In fact, I'm pretty sure a LOT more people are killed by dogs in America, than are killed by Killer Whales.

On the other hand, the Shamu show is already pretty rediculous with the changes they have made. So I'm not sure if it would matter that much at this point if they further ruined it.

I guess that OSHA really doesn't care that the actual incident had nothing to do with trainers purposely interacting with the whale, or swimming with them.

From 66.176.225.98 on August 23, 2010 at 9:16 PM
I also would like to see the full report once published.

This should be a risk benefit analysis and not the typical there was an accident, ban it.

Were the workers made aware of the risk, trained how to minimize the risk, procedures in place in case of an accident or unexpected event, and was the public risk minimized? If so, the trainers have a right to determine whether to participate in a less than 100% safe environment.

If pressure was brought on the trainers to participate with Orcas or other animals in unsafe conditions, if the above precautions were not put into place and not followed, if specific known factors not addressed, or if negligence was involved, then Sea World should be soundly punished. Continuing with Tilamook after an accident directly caused by the animal may be a factor.

Finally a personal (political?) point. Are we afraid to take reasonable risks now. If we are afraid, shut down the military, no more roller coasters, no more eggs or meat, ban automobiles, ban electricity, and even ban Little League baseball because a person could get hurt. I hope we have not reached the point where people are no longer allowed to take reasonable voluntary risks. If we have, God help the USA because we we can't make our own decisions, including stupid decisions that hurts no one else. Oh, we have.

From 89.242.185.59 on August 23, 2010 at 10:00 PM
as an infrequent visitor to Seaworld I won't miss the human and whale interaction. The whales should be viewed in as near natural a state as possible. Seaworld and many captive animal exhibits do offer something to the education of our species and the ongoing survival of others.
I think it important that people remember whales are self-aware mammals capable of experiencing emotions similar to ours, we only lack the ability to understand their range and depth.
Therefore their ongoing captivity in a bathtub is something we should all reflect upon whilst enjoying and learning about them.
The future of most captive animals is to remain captive so our first aim must be to ensure their well-being and all other considerations should come second. That means keep the trainers out the water, improve their environment and as Robert states use the character of Shamu for the park and species benefit.
Peace
From Joshua Counsil on August 23, 2010 at 10:17 PM
I'm not against animal captivity. I'm saying I'm content with exhibits rather than live shows where they perform tricks.
From 166.137.11.229 on August 24, 2010 at 1:36 AM
I really don't get some of what people here are saying. They seem to loose perspective about stuff. Exibitions is in my opinion the lesser evil. This is not an easy situation by any means. I don't think there's an easy or an absolute great solution to this. Is captivity good for the animals I think only if that species was facing extintion. Is it necessary? I think in some cases. Yes. I haven't seen the watered down version of the show but I like the bathtub reference. This are huge animals that are acostumed to swim in the vastness of the ocean that get to live in a minimal space for their size. Then got to perform for our enjoyment and pleasure. Then everyone just surprises when (sadly) the trainer gets killed. I'm not by any means saying that they should be any animals in captivity. What I'm saying cause I've actually never thought of it like Robert said it about the familiarity that seeing such animals brings in relation to the care we give to them. Is a great point! Cont.-
From 166.137.11.143 on August 24, 2010 at 2:09 AM
-cont. But some of the stuff people are saying is just silly. Sharks, little league baseball, dogs, cars? Really? What is going on? Do we got the same safety features that inicially were on cars? No! Now we get airbags, cameras, even cars that stop on their own. Even in Nascar, after Dale died they brought some new stuff safety wise. Is it dangerous still? Sure but now they got special cars, special fences, and are strap in such a way they can't even turn their necks to the sides! Dogs? Of course there are more dogs deads . Is by opportunity. When was the last time you were jogging and a killer whale atack you. That's just silly! Even joggers and walkers carry around sticks. Again safety. Little leaguers got special rules, rules meant to protect those kids so they don't harm themselfs. Like not slidind head first or pitch counts so that they don' t get over played. Yes you can play baseball but at some point some one decided that having players laying around the field knock out wasn't a great idea. So they decided to implement, helmets. Sharks? You know why those people that clean the sharks tanks don't get killed that often? Cause they respect the sharks keep their distance and more importantly are not asking the sharks to play with them and tossed them around a little! My point: safety measures increase or change as time goes on! Is it for the better? probably. Would't the numbers of trainers killed be less if they didn't ask the whale to perform stunts? Of course they would only if nothing else by chance... Do trainers know what they get into. Sure. I mean they should. But the point raised is should they're be any mote safety measures implemented? And how many? Before there's no swiming or performing with the whales. Do Seaworld need more safety measures? I don't know but I don't claimed to say no. Cause a trainer died! If they don't do something chances of something happening are greater...
From 166.137.8.234 on August 24, 2010 at 2:37 AM
- So the point I was really trying to make while struggling with my cellphone(sorry). Is that you could go to war naked and with a paint gun. Or do a roller coaster with no safety reistraints. Just the fact tht you're willing doesn't make it a good idea! Plus it doesn't mean either that the people in charge (Seaworld here) should allow it or take any actions. I also got a question. Since I really don't know that much about the trainers. How do we know they wouldn't like some changes themselves? Or even have suggestion or safety concerns. That doesn't mean they don't love they're job or that they didn't knew the risks going in. But if they suggest some things and Seaworld didn't lissen, then Seaworld is at fault. Hey, I like baseball but I wouln't go faced a 90mph pitch
with no helmet and a lollipop instead of a bat! That would be a good idea! Maybe swimming with "Killer whales" isn't either...
From Victoria Jurkowski on August 24, 2010 at 6:53 AM
i always wondered about the bland whale exhibits. here they go all out for other animals, like the fish and penguins so they have exhibits that look and feel exactly like their environment. and i bet the fish, being not terribly bright, would be perfectly fine with a bathtub. but these whales are possibly the smartest animals at seaworld and they get these tiny enclosures with no decorations, just blue walls and a glass viewing area. i would rather see them in a natural looking environment than see them throw a trainer off their nose.
From 216.54.102.34 on August 24, 2010 at 7:24 AM
And there is no more FREE beer at Sea World or any of their parks.
From Charles Reichley on August 24, 2010 at 8:00 AM
I would think that the whales, being aware as they are, would actually enjoy the interaction, and miss it if it was taken away.

Not sure what a whale's "natural environment" would look like, seems they mostly swim in the middle of the ocean, so maybe water with waves instead of calm water?

If you think in any way that an animal is aware of their surroundings enough to actually have feelings and care about it, you'd pretty much have to oppose what we do to them, locking them up and making them parade about for our amusement.

Heck, I know my small pets aren't that aware, and I still feel bad about it if I don't spend a lot of time with them trying to help them have fun.

So while I enjoy watching shows, and I like seeing animals in the zoo, if I felt the animals had the same feelings about captivity as I would, I don't think I'd enjoy seeing them that way.

From 67.235.119.37 on August 24, 2010 at 8:42 AM
All have made valid comments but whether you are for or against man/animal interactions or captive wildlife in general, Sea World is getting the improper wrath of the Government. If we followed the logic used by OSHA there would be no commercial fishing (#1 most dangerous job), no farming or agriculture (#2), and no construction over 6' high. Fisherman, farmers and construction workers all know the dangers inherent in what we do but we like our jobs and what we do for a living knowing that even if we take every precaution, there is a chance of a boat sinking, a tractor flipping over or a scaffold collapse. From what I have read, the trainer loved her job and knew the inherent risks. Sea World, et al. did not force her to do this job, she did this job because she enjoyed it. Did the Mirage in Las Vegas get fined when one of Siegfried & Roy's tigers acted like a tiger? I doubt it. It looks like the philosophical feelings of animal interactions/captivity felt by possibly one OSHA employee has over-ruled better judgement. Good luck to Sea World in getting this matter dismissed.
From Ted Heumann on August 24, 2010 at 9:02 AM
A couple of things:
First: ALL of these animals we are talking about were BORN in captivity. They don't know ANYTHING else. They CANNOT survive outside of captivity. If you don't like animals in captivity, then go join PETA and take your bleeding hearts someplace else!
Second to Robert's point: I'm not sure that your thoughts COULD apply to Sea World San Diego. I thought I heard at one time that there are restrictions on what can and cannot be at Sea World San Diego. I thought that it had to be mostly education focused and not ride focused. I'm not 100% sure. Does anyone know more?
From 199.159.146.183 on August 24, 2010 at 9:41 AM
@ steve lee

Sea World hasn't offered free beer since February 1, 2009.

From Robert Niles on August 24, 2010 at 10:22 AM
Ted,

The San Diego SeaWorld park operates under development restrictions that I'm sure create more headaches for that management team than any other theme park in the country endures. They can get rides built (see Journey to Atlantis), but it's a slow, hard process, thanks to continuing anti-theme park sentiments among San Diego elected officials.

From Joshua Counsil on August 24, 2010 at 11:14 AM
Ted -

I don't think I've read one comment that was against captivity. Most of the comments are either for SeaWorld or for exhibits but against live shows.

I'm not a fan of the whale or dolphin shows. I'd rather just see the animals in exhibits rather than doing tricks. As for the bleeding heart PETA comment, I'm far from it. I'm against animal cruelty, but not control. For example, I am for seal hunting in Canada despite that the entire world seems to think it's cruel. I bet there are many people that wouldn't find anything wrong with a whale doing tricks for entertainment, but would find it disgusting that we club seals.

From TH Creative on August 24, 2010 at 3:16 PM
There are so many unique and gifted and creative people in the theme park industry. I find it impossible to believe that SeaWorld cannot perform a show and maintain these animals without putting the trainers in the tank.
From Daniel Etcheberry on August 24, 2010 at 4:32 PM
I have great memories of my childhood when I visited Sea World and was thrilled by the orca show. Future generations of children should have the same experience that I had.

There is more chance for a trainer to get killed in a car accident than in the water tank at Sea World.

Please don't spoil the experience.

From 69.116.160.89 on August 24, 2010 at 4:44 PM
As a former trainer myself (Atlantis Aquarium in NY), I can't help but think that any such ruling forbidding contact in the water is absurd and detrimental to the animals well being. Orcas in particular are very social animals and often demand physical touch from their trainers. Ever see an Orca demand a rub or a scratch? They are pure hedonists who do it at any chance. It is used as a positive reinforcement for good behavior more often than not! To have a trainer barred from the water with an Orca or any marine mammal who has been trained to physically interact with a human can upset and cause the animal itself to react negatively and begin to lash out due to the change in it's routine and handling.

Also, Trainers NEED the freedom to get in the water with the animals in case of emergencies. There have been cases where a trainer has had to dive into a tank quickly to remove an item that fell or was thrown in by a passerby that could be detrimental to the health of the animal or the animal began playing with and will not bring to a trainer. If an injured animal won't come near the edge of the holding area, you may have to go to it in case of a life threatening issue. Even non-performing marine mammals who go just on display are acclimated and trained to accept human presence and touch in their tanks for this reason. Otherwise, an animal who is not used to human presence in the water will be much more prone to becoming either territorial of their area and charge a human OR more fearful and will hurt itself trying to escape the invasion. The only way you can acclimate an animal is by entering the water on a constant basis, not just when there is an emergency. Doing otherwise is just asking for accidents to happen when a stressed animal who is not used to a human in the water suddenly finds their area occupied by one.

As for getting rid of performances.. Any worthwhile trainer, regardless of the animal, knows that captive animals who have been trained to perform can and do get into funks when they are not performing. Many of them establish a love of the crowd and performing, much like actors and actresses do.

I worked with a seal once, who would perform for anyone at anytime, with NO reward except the applause of onlookers. He was not trained to initiate performances, and we often tried to limit his interaction with the public out of concern. He would just see people come by the exhibit, and would begin doing tricks. The louder the crowd got, the more he would respond in kind. We did not reinforce this behavior, but he did it anyway. Like working dogs and other animals, once they have established that they have a job to do, they will do it. It's one thing if the animal has never been trained to perform, it's another thing entirely when it has been the routine for the animal for years. Even aquariums and exhibits have to train their marine mammals to perform specific tasks, such as leaving one area of the tank for another or to roll, offer a fluke, etc during medical exams. Performances and being trained to perform are also one way that zoos and aquaria have been trying to enrich the lives of their animals as well. Give an animal a purpose and puzzles to figure out, and they will be much more healthier and happy.

From TH Creative on August 25, 2010 at 5:11 AM
Again, the citation from OSHA addresses management response to recordable incidents. It is NOT about some inherent danger affiliated with tainers performing in the water with these animals. It is an accusation about management's history of responding to incidents and whether or not that response wass adequate.

The previous poster ("anonymous trainer person") could be completely correct in all their assertions. But if the people running the show (management) have demonstrated that they are either unwilling or incapable of making adjustments to insure the safety of the trainers ... then yeah the trainers need to be protected.

And (once again) I am not claiming OSHA is right or wrong. And (may I add) anyone who has not read the report but is drawing conclusions about the report is doing so blindly.

This citation is NOT about animals and humans in the water. It's about the way management handles that situation.

From 74.92.71.29 on August 25, 2010 at 9:20 AM
TH Creative, I am the "anonymous trainer person" in the previous post. I cannot use my name to speak on my former Aquarium's behalf, but I can speak as a former trainer and as someone who has worked in multiple AZA accredited facilities in the Northeast USA.

OSHA's ruling has to do with management's policies, however, the article mentions that OSHA is also imposing work restrictions on SeaWorld trainers. "No more contact with Tilikum, unless separated by a physical barrier. And no more in-pool contact with the other orcas, either, unless SeaWorld devises some system to protect trainers from attacks". I am adding to the discussion in which the article's title itself brings up - "Federal ruling might mean the end of trainers swimming with orcas at SeaWorld parks". Several comments on this article are speaking of trainers possibly being barred in the future from working in the water with the animals as a result, and I was commenting as a former trainer as to the reasons why a trainer HAS to have the freedom to interact with the animals in the water. Sea World has to contest the citation because the restrictions being placed on them as a result of it are not in the animals' best interests for the reasons that I mentioned in my earlier comment.

I was also adding to the discussion in the comments to get rid of performances all together and to move to an exhibit only situation. Training and "tricks" are not only used for performance, but extensively behind the scenes even for exhibit-only animals as a matter of handling, acclimation, vet care, and daily exercise. Removing them from public performances will only remove the public aspect of the equation, not the training itself.

I'm not saying that trainers should be interacting in a dangerous environment or without proper precautions, but that an outright "no water" policy is dangerous and can possibly lead to worse accidents simply because of a 'best intentions' policy change. OSHA is correct to fine anyone taking unnecessary risks or procedures with their staff and to ensure the staffs' protection, but their imposed restrictions in this case could be damaging to the animals' well-being and the ability of their care-takers to, well, care for them. OSHA's restriction on Tilikum could be violating AZA policies, for example. Sea World and all AZA accredited facilities are required to maintain a standard of care for the animals that these restrictions may be interfering with. How are the trainers and vets supposed to take blood, administer shots, etc, from Tilikum, if they must maintain a physical barrier between them and the Orca at all times?

From TH Creative on August 25, 2010 at 5:08 PM
Anonymous Trainer writes: OSHA's ruling has to do with management's policies, however, the article mentions that OSHA is also imposing work restrictions on SeaWorld trainers.

I respond: And those restrictions (according to the citation) is because management has not properly responded to recorded incidents that were determined to be dangerous.

Anonymous Trainer writes: "No more contact with Tilikum, unless separated by a physical barrier. And no more in-pool contact with the other orcas, either, unless SeaWorld devises some system to protect trainers from attacks".

I Respond: So according to OSHA management needs to "devise some system to protect trainers from attacks." Why would anyone have a problem with that?

Anonymous Trainer writes: "I am adding to the discussion in which the article's title itself brings up - "Federal ruling might mean the end of trainers swimming with orcas at SeaWorld parks."

I Respond: Because (according to OSHA's accusation) management has fallen short of its responsibilities. Because there have been incidents in the past when (according to OSHA ... not me) management's response has been inadequate.

Anonymous Trainer writes: Several comments on this article are speaking of trainers possibly being barred in the future from working in the water with the animals as a result, and I was commenting as a former trainer as to the reasons why a trainer HAS to have the freedom to interact with the animals in the water.

I Respond: Duly noted. But that does not mean the contact must happen in the context of performance. Further if management cannot devise a system where humans are safe in the water and if management (as OSHA contends) has been negligent in creating a work environment where trainers can be safe in the water ... that demands changes be made.

Anonymous Trainer writes: Sea World has to contest the citation because the restrictions being placed on them as a result of it are not in the animals' best interests for the reasons that I mentioned in my earlier comment.

I Respond: According to OSHA, the restrictions have been placed due to the negligance of management reacting to previous incidents. And the assertion that trainers should be in the water in a situation that does not maximize their safety because its "in the animals' best interests" is (at best) a dubious contention.

Anonymous Trainer writes: Training and "tricks" are not only used for performance, but extensively behind the scenes even for exhibit-only animals as a matter of handling, acclimation, vet care, and daily exercise. Removing them from public performances will only remove the public aspect of the equation, not the training itself.

I Respond: I have no doubt about that, but to what degree? Further, while the interaction most likely plays an important roll in the animals' health, that does not mean that SeaWorld should cut corners (as OSHA's investigation claims) when it comes to the trainers' safety. Nor do your assertions mean that the interaction take place in front of an audience. Nor does it undermine any contention that the trainers should be in the tank with the animals for any more time that is necessary.

Anonymous Trainer writes: I'm not saying that trainers should be interacting in a dangerous environment or without proper precautions, but that an outright "no water" policy is dangerous and can possibly lead to worse accidents simply because of a 'best intentions' policy change.

I Respond: "Can possibly?" And OSHA is saying that SeaWorld management has been unwilling or incapable of preventing trainers from being placed in a "dangerous environment" "without proper precautions."

Anonymous Trainer writes: "OSHA is correct to fine anyone taking unnecessary risks or procedures with their staff and to ensure the staffs' protection, but their imposed restrictions in this case could be damaging to the animals' well-being and the ability of their care-takers to, well, care for them."

I respond: "Could be?"

Anonymous Trainer writes: OSHA's restriction on Tilikum could be violating AZA policies ..."

I Respond: "Could be?"

Anonymous Trainer writes: Sea World and all AZA accredited facilities are required to maintain a standard of care for the animals that these restrictions may be interfering with. How are the trainers and vets supposed to take blood, administer shots, etc, from Tilikum, if they must maintain a physical barrier between them and the Orca at all times?

I respond: Are you saying that there is ABSOLUTELY NO POSSIBILITY that some sort of safety barrier can be designed to protect vets as they treat the animal properly?

Um ... okay.

From Bruce Lane on August 25, 2010 at 7:34 PM
Response from OSHA via E-mail, received today: They have confirmed the material I've asked for (a copy of the incident report and OSHA's findings, both for the Feb. incident at SWO which led to Dawn Brancheau's death) are a matter of public record.

No specific FOIA request will be required to obtain such, and my request has already been forwarded to the Tampa area OSHA office as they are the ones who would have done the actual investigation.

I will post further updates in the main discussion area if this thread should close.

As an aside: I would very much like to know who our 'anonymous trainer' is, more specifically if we've met at IMATA conferences or at a park in times past. Your observations are quite impressive, and I find myself largely in agreement.

Please drop me an E-mail (kyrrin at bluefeathertech dot com) if you don't mind telling me who you are. I can certainly agree to respect that anonymity in public forum.

Keep the peace(es).

From 69.116.160.89 on August 25, 2010 at 9:51 PM
Anonymous Trainer here.

TH Creative, for the record, I am NOT disagreeing with you. I AGREE with you. I did not say that Sea World management didn't make mistakes nor have I defended the management's responses in any of my responses, or that OSHA's ruling wasn't justifiable given what happened and what they have discovered. In fact, I didn't really address it other than to say OSHA was right. Sea World is going to have to come up with new ways to maximize the safety of its trainers during animal handling, especially if they want to put the trainers back in the water. That's a given point. It does look like though, in your attempt to address me point by point, you may have missed the overall picture of my response.

My point wasn't that OSHA's ruling was wrong, but the restrictions being placed on the trainers as a result of the rulings conflict with the requirements that Zoos and Aquarius are required to maintain for their animals. You are talking about the reason why the restrictions exist in the first place. I am talking about the repercussions of those restrictions and how they impact the trainers and animals.

I did not say that the trainers should be forced to do their job under unsafe conditions, but rather that I feel that OSHA did not account for the requirements of caring for marine mammals in their move to forbid the trainers from direct contact until Management fixes things. And why should they? Their job is to maintain the safety of the workplace for humans, and personally, the safer those conditions can be made, the happier I would be. But the animals themselves should not suffer a decrease in their own care because of this.

My comment on the AZA requirements possibly being violated are founded on the fact that I am familiar with their requirements for Pinnipeds, not Orcas. I cannot say with certainty as to the exact nature of the AZA requirements for Orcas as I have never worked with members of the Dolphin family, but I am familiar with their general policies regarding marine mammals in general.

From 69.116.160.89 on August 25, 2010 at 10:23 PM
Anonymous Trainer again.

Hey Bruce, I have not attended the IMATA conferences, though I have been to a few of their workshops in the Boston area a couple of years ago. I did attend SMM's conference in Vancouver in '01, and I graduated from Southampton College back in the day, under the then Vice President of the Pacific Whale Foundation, Dr. Paul Forestell.

I've since moved away from marine mammal training to focus more on behavioral studies with both marine mammals and canines. I was working for Rutger's University on their Seeing Eye Dog program for a couple of years, but I'm currently not involved in training or behavior at the moment. I had to change my career plans when the funding dried up. Hence, the "former" trainer title. Even though I am not a current trainer at a park, I'm a current representative of a contractor who deals with several studios and their parks, so I'm really not at liberty to share my name. I just really wanted to add my two cents into the discussion since it's my background and training.

From Bruce Lane on August 26, 2010 at 10:02 PM
I was not asking you to share who you are in public forum, but in private.

It's clear to me you choose not to do so in either way. Fair enough, that's your choice. You should keep in mind, however, that doing so is likely to throw whatever credibility you may have into question with everyone, myself included.

This will be my last comment on this topic until I receive and review the OSHA material.

From 152.132.9.130 on August 27, 2010 at 12:38 PM
so exactly how many trainers have died at Sea World parks since they opened? (answer 1... 2 people have died, the other the man found naked in Tilikum's pool in 1999)

I think I would trust the experts at Sea World more than bureaucrats... sorry

on the list of most dangerous jobs, fishermen, loggers and pilots are the 3 worst... what is OSHA doing there?
by the way- what ever happened to lion tamers... is that still a job somewhere?

From 67.49.113.235 on August 28, 2010 at 6:02 PM
TH Creative and the anti-captivity PETArds have no idea what they're talking about. The trainers knowing the risk IS EXACTLY what we're talking about here. What other precautions can be made? And if there were no more animals in zoos and aquariums, how quickly would people stop caring about the environment? It becomes real to people when they see animals face-to-face. Some say go see them in the wild, but I can't count the whale watching trips I've shelled out about as much as it costs to go to SeaWorld and didn't see a thing. That doesn't bring the conservation messge home. It's easy to change the channel on the T.V. and VERY easy to tune out PETA and other idiots crying about captivity while they euthanize the healthy, adoptable animals they "rescue".

And TH Creative, orcas arn't fish. Do some research before you make yourself look stupid in public. And if it was a joke, you made yourself look stupid in public.

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