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