Federal ruling might mean the end of trainers swimming with orcas at SeaWorld parks
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This "They know the risks" approach does not wash with me. It misses the point.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, people are killed by dogs every day, so maybe they should require a physical barrier at the pet show as well.
I also would like to see the full report once published.
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'm not against animal captivity. I'm saying I'm content with exhibits rather than live shows where they perform tricks.
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.-
-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...
- 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
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.
And there is no more FREE beer at Sea World or any of their parks.
I would think that the whales, being aware as they are, would actually enjoy the interaction, and miss it if it was taken away.
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.
A couple of things:
@ steve lee
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Anonymous Trainer here.
Anonymous Trainer again.
I was not asking you to share who you are in public forum, but in private.
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)
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".
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.