Written by PETA
On the final day of SeaWorld's challenge to its citations imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), questions abounded about the qualifications of Jeff Andrews, a 15-year SeaWorld veteran who now works at the San Diego Zoo and whom SeaWorld offered as a witness. Andrews was presented as an expert in animal behavior and training and in working safely with large animals. He testified that he primarily learned on the job at SeaWorld and last worked with orcas there in 2001.
When questioned about what he could offer that would differ from previous SeaWorld employees' testimony, Andrews responded only his "position in the park" and his post-SeaWorld experience. He stated that he stays informed of what happens at SeaWorld parks and is called if there is an injury at any of them. He also admitted that he relied entirely on Chuck Tompkins, SeaWorld's corporate curator for zoological operations, for the data and statistics on which he based his opinion.
After a day of direct and cross examination, during which Andrews repeatedly made "expert" statements that were based on others' opinions, his credibility was shredded. Even SeaWorld did not offer Andrews' report, which he had prepared for SeaWorld for the purpose of this hearing and which provided written proof of his flawed methodologies, into evidence.
When questioned about aggressive incidents documented in SeaWorld's monthly recaps, Andrews refused to acknowledge that splitting off routine and thrashing toward a trainer could indicate aggression in Tilikum, laughing at OSHA's attorney for suggesting the possibility and calling the assertion an "uneducated assessment of behavior." Despite using the term "aggressive" repeatedly in his direct testimony and his report, when asked how he defines the term, Andrews responded, "I don't have an operating definition of aggression off the top of my head."
Andrews dismissed the vast majority of behaviors listed as "aggressive tendencies" on Tilikum's behavioral profile, including "mouthing the stage, vocalizations, tightening body posture, banging gates" and "a deep fast swim." Andrews insisted that only lunging toward a trainer could potentially be considered aggressive.
Another notable thing revealed today was an admission by SeaWorld's vice president of veterinary services, Dr. Chris Dold, that about 14 of 20 orcas at SeaWorld have had their teeth drilled after breaking them from biting hard surfaces such as the concrete pools, themselves, and other orcas.
The parties will be submitting final briefs in the coming months, after which the judge will make his decision. But one thing became clear during nine days of testimony: Despite all the deaths, injuries, and other serious incidents that have occurred, SeaWorld employees continue to defend the practice of keeping orcas in tanks and forcing them to perform tricks for the public.
Written by Jennifer O'Connor
Returning to the
stand on day eight of the hearings regarding SeaWorld's challenge to OSHA rulings
against SeaWorld, the company's "curator of animal training," Kelly
Flaherty Clark, became visibly angered when government attorney John Black
implied that SeaWorld makes substantive changes to its protocols only for PR
purposes—rather than to protect trainer safety.
pointed out the differences between the responses to the incidents involving Dawn Brancheau
and John Sillick and the incident involving Alexis Martinez.
The incidents involving Brancheau and Sillick, who was crushed in 1987 when an
orca landed on him while the trainer was in the water, both occurred with the
public present and resulted in significant media attention and some changes to
trainer-orca interactions. In contrast, Martinez's death occurred during a
training session in Tenerife, Spain, at the hideous Loro Parque marine park, out
of public view, and garnered little media attention on an island where tourism
is king and Loro Parque is the big revenue generator. After Martinez's death, trainers
at SeaWorld Orlando were pulled from the water for only a single day, and no
changes to any training or safety procedures were made.
evidence were SeaWorld's "monthly recaps," including 60 pages of
documents about Tilikum that included the heading "Aggressive Incidents"
and detailed an incident in which a trainer lost control of Tilikum during a
show. Tilikum started swimming in circles, and when called back, he "thrashed"
toward the trainer—which Flaherty Clark demonstrated by showing her teeth. Flaherty
Clark dismissed the recaps as "irrelevant." To whom?
Clark was also questioned about a 1997 incident at the now-defunct SeaWorld
Ohio in which trainer Kristine Van Oss was pulled into the water by her
sweatshirt. The resulting incident report stated: "We hope that you plan
to eventually desensitize all killer whales to work with you regardless of what
you're wearing. You can't guarantee hair, apparel, or objects will never be
within reach, so it's better to address the problem." Tilikum pulled Dawn
Brancheau into the tank by her ponytail.
Clark confirmed that until Dawn Brancheau's death, every time trainers were
pulled from the water following a serious incident, they were allowed back in.
And every single time, another
incident or injury occurred.
asked how water work is educational for audiences, a claim that SeaWorld makes
because an educational purpose is required for the company to retain its
federal permits to hold orcas, Flaherty Clark could not provide any
information. No surprise.
by Jennifer O'Connor
After its request
to dismiss the OSHA case against it was rejected, SeaWorld called its first
witness, Jenny Mairot, the supervisor of animal
training at the Orlando park. Mairot started at SeaWorld a year after
graduating from high school and has never received formal training as an animal
behaviorist or trainer outside the organization. Despite being Dawn Brancheau's
partner at the time of her death, Mairot testified cheerfully, laughing loudly
and often during her testimony.
Tilikum—the orca who killed Brancheau (and two others)—as "the most
congenial, easygoing, and predictable" of the three adult male orcas she
has worked with. She called Brancheau's death "tragic, but it was not
unpredictable" and said that SeaWorld employees "were well aware of
what would happen if someone fell into the pool with [Tilikum]."
stressed that SeaWorld turned a blind eye to safety and allowed its trainers to
be in harm's way just for show by "writing incident reports, sending them
around, and patting themselves on the back."
trainer Alexis Martinez's death on "layers of
mistakes" and said that when she watches video footage of the incident, "Keto
[the whale who killed Martinez] wasn't even that bad." She stressed that the
trainers at Loro Parque are "raw" and that the orcas are all young
males. Mairot failed to note that Loro Parque staffers were trained by SeaWorld
trainers and that the orcas were all provided for and placed in the facility by
SeaWorld. SeaWorld Orlando trainers stopped water work for only a single day
after Martinez's death, and no substantive changes were made to their protocols.
The next witness,
Kelly Flaherty Clark, is the curator of animal training at SeaWorld Orlando.
Flaherty Clark agreed with Mairot that the trainers were at fault for Martinez's
death. Flaherty Clark lamented
the fact that non-SeaWorld staffers were allowed to review incident reports
since they don't understand "our craft." When asked who incident
reports were meant for, Flaherty-Clark replied, "Certainly not a lawyer or
More to come.
by Jennifer O'Connor
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