Written by PETA
SeaWorld's hearing is in recess, PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk is giving the
park some great reasons to use the time to evaluate how to get out of the
captive-animal business. Read what she has to say here.
The following was posted September 24, 2011
has been adjourned until November, but on Friday, Dr. David Duffus—who had
served as the foreperson of the coroner's inquest into the death of trainer
Keltie Byrne after she was pulled into the water and drowned by Tilikum
and two other orcas in 1991—again took the stand.
Dr. Duffus testified that no method of training can control orca behavior and that
current safety measures aren't effective. "Twenty years later, a lot has been done,
yet I'm reading the same outcome,"
he said. Dr. Duffus added that given his knowledge of orcas and the incidents
involving the animals in captivity, there was "no way on Earth" that he
would place himself in immediate contact with Tilikum, nor would he get close
to any other orca because of his "great deal of respect for the
fundamental nature of large predators."
The final witness called before the hearing was adjourned
until mid-November was Les Grove, area director of the Tampa office of the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which conducted the investigation
into Dawn Brancheau's death and issued the citation at issue in this case.
Asked why SeaWorld was cited for a "willful" violation—which entails
an employer's "plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee
safety and health"—Grove mentioned the "Tilly Talk,"
the 100-plus incidents
that have occurred at SeaWorld parks, interviews with management, and training
manuals that show the company was aware that working in close contact with orcas
During the investigation, he added, "It became obvious Tilikum wasn't the
We'll give you further updates when the appeal resumes in
November, but for the orcas, the other dolphins,
and the people endangered by SeaWorld's indifference, there's no time to lose—tell SeaWorld today
that the place for these amazing animals is in a sanctuary, not doing stupid
tricks for tourists.
Minette Layne | cc by 2.0
Written by Jeff Mackey
day four of SeaWorld's
appeal, Shana Groves, a SeaWorld senior trainer who was bitten on the thigh by an orca
during a performance five years ago, testified that she had completed an
incident report as required by the marine park and was surprised to learn that
the attack was one of the many episodes left out
of the corporate incident log that SeaWorld had provided to the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration.
she was bitten, Groves was in a position similar to that of Dawn Brancheau when
she was attacked by Tilikum. Groves, who transferred out of Shamu Stadium to
work with sea lions and otters after Brancheau's attack, broke down in tears
when showed a photo of her and Tilikum.
Topoleski, a former SeaWorld trainer who was acting as Brancheau's "spotter"
at the time Brancheau was attacked, then recounted the circumstances
surrounding Brancheau's death. Topoleski's testimony that Tilikum grabbed
Brancheau by her ponytail was at odds with that of a SeaWorld security guard
who had testified earlier that he watched Brancheau be pulled in the water by
her arm. Topoleski conceded that he did not see Brancheau's hair in Tilikum's
mouth or Brancheau pulled underwater by her hair. The supposed safety procedures
that Topoleski followed were unable to free Brancheau from Tilikum's jaws. Like
Groves, Toploleski stopped working with orcas shortly after the attack.
Fantaz | cc by 2.0
the government called Dr. David Duffus, a professor at the University of
Victoria in British Columbia, as an expert witness to discuss the predatory
nature and inherent unpredictability of orcas, Duffus said that he was "at
a loss" as to why Brancheau was permitted to lie in shallow water at Tilikum's
side, holding his pectoral fin, knowing that he had a history of attacks. "Dealing
with a large predatory animal and not expecting it to behave like a predator, I
don't think that's wise," he said. Duffus questioned whether SeaWorld's
allegations that trainer injuries were rare were a sufficient reason to permit trainers
to be in close proximity with orcas, as even if it happens once in a million
times, if that millionth time is a catastrophe, then it "goes beyond
verdict is in: Humans should not interact with orcas, and SeaWorld puts its
trainers at risk by allowing them to have close contact with dangerous, unpredictable
animals. But stay tuned to find out the outcome of the hearing.
Written by Heather Moore
three of SeaWorld's
brought out more skeletons from the marine park's closet. Attorneys for the
government brought up incident after incident that were left out of SeaWorld's corporate incident
log, including the attack
leading to trainer Dawn
Brancheau's death and attacks by an orca who had a penchant for grabbing trainers'
ponytails. Chuck Tompkins, SeaWorld's corporate curator of zoological
operations, eventually conceded that SeaWorld "may have missed a few"
Abi Skipp | cc by 2.0
court watched graphic video
footage from 2006, in which an orca named Kasatka (who had been involved in
nine previous incidents) clamped down on trainer Ken Peters' foot and dragged
him underwater at SeaWorld in San Diego. People in the courtroom gasped as they
watched video of Kasatka
as he yanked Peters around and
held him underwater for minutes at a time. Peters repeatedly struggled to free
himself from Kasatka's jaws and was finally able to calm the orca and escape
with a broken foot. Tompkins conceded that no level of knowledge, experience,
or skill would have enabled Peters to escape the attack unscathed: His only options
were serious injury or death.
Tompkins previously testified that there is no need to revise SeaWorld's animal
training procedures because all injuries that occur are because of human error,
he acknowledged on Wednesday that even the most senior trainers have made
errors resulting in injuries and that, often, trainers were not to blame for
the incidents. Tompkins continued to prove that SeaWorld management is
delusional, claiming that they "have gotten a whole lot better" with
the training process over time, despite, as attorneys for the government noted,
the fact that two trainers were killed over a span of only two months in 2009
and 2010 and that the 2006 attack on Peters was nearly fatal.
Tompkins' failure to
acknowledge these dangers can be explained by the fact that neither he nor the other
high-level managers of animal training at SeaWorld are formally trained in
animal behavior, nor do they have any professional experience with orcas other
that what they learned on the job at SeaWorld. In addition, the company has
never called on an independent third party to review its incidents, protocols, or
back tomorrow for an update on Thursday's testimony.
Written by Lindsay Pollard-Post
On day two of SeaWorld's appeal
of the penalty leveled by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA), senior trainer Lynne Schaber testified
that trainers who work with orcas receive special instruction on Tilikum and a "Tilly
in which they're informed of Tilikum's involvement with two previous deaths and
that if they enter the water with him, they may not survive. Despite these
Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by Tilikum last year—were approved to work in close
proximity with this angry orca and physically touch him at the water's edge.
Schaber and Chuck Tompkins, SeaWorld's corporate
curator for zoological operations for all SeaWorld parks, also testified that
there are no specific steps for trainers to follow to respond to a
life-threatening situation in the water and that their lives are ultimately up
to their own "best judgment call." Tompkins admitted that the park
does not even re-evaluate its protocols after an injury or death because it
deems the injuries that occur "a result of human error" and insisted
that revising safety protocols is unnecessary.
Finally, the government began
at length about SeaWorld's corporate incident log, which contains reports of more than 100 incidents of orca aggression
at its parks, often resulting in injuries to humans and causing one death by extensive
Written by Jennifer O'Connor
In an appalling
display of its mercenary mindset, SeaWorld is fighting a federal charge
that it exposed its employees to risks "causing or likely to cause death
or serious physical harm," which was brought after trainer Dawn Brancheau was
killed by the orca Tilikum last year. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) cited SeaWorld for a willful violation
of federal law and fined the company the maximum amount allowed. PETA supporters were outside OSHA's
Florida office to stand up for the animals who live and die in cramped tanks at
Photo courtesy of Carla Wilson
Even though Tilikum
had killed twice before—and despite a history of trainer deaths,
hospitalizations, and injuries—SeaWorld's attorney argued that Brancheau's
death was merely an "unfortunate event" and that its training process
made interactions with killer whales "safe." Yet, SeaWorld's curator of animal
training acknowledged that these procedures couldn't have saved Brancheau after
she was dragged into the water by Tilikum.
Government attorneys stated that
killer whales are "large, powerful and non-domesticated animals" with
"the potential to cause serious physical harm or death to people who get
near them." They argued that "SeaWorld's killer whale training
program doesn't change the essential facts that harm or death to people is
possible. Their program doesn't eliminate what SeaWorld itself recognizes as a
The hearing is expected to last all week. Stay tuned for updates.
Written by Jennifer O'Connor
Backing up claims made by Linda Simons, SeaWorld's former head of safety, Michelle Dillard, a former human resources director at SeaWorld, has come forward to report that the marine park attempted to block an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) into the death of Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by an orca named Tilikum in February. (OSHA found SeaWorld to be "willfully" at fault in connection with Brancheau's death and fined the park $75,000.)
"I personally witnessed [the SeaWorld Management team] outright lying to OSHA, using intentional delay tactics to stonewall the investigation and, behind closed doors, revealing an inflexible and obstinate refusal to be forthcoming and accommodating toward OSHA," wrote Dillard in a statement to OSHA that was obtained by The Huffington Post.
Dillard, who resigned in July because of what she says were unbearable working conditions, also alleged that her former boss, SeaWorld's vice president of human resources, "hid documents, pretended to not know that documents existed and obstructed OSHA's investigation." She says she came forward because of SeaWorld's retaliation against Simons, who was fired two months after the attack.
Dillard's allegations are a timely reminder to keep the pressure on SeaWorld to "retire" Tilikum and all the other dolphins at SeaWorld facilities to coastal sanctuaries.
Via The Huffington Post
Written by Alisa Mullins
Ten-year-old Bobby Connell has spent the last six months plagued by nightmares after witnessing Tilikum the killer whale batter SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau to death right in front of his eyes. Bobby's father, in a suit filed against SeaWorld, said his son "saw the look of horror and desperation on Dawn's face as she was swimming for her life. … He then saw Tilikum violently yank her down again to the depths of the pool."
The family sat in the front row during the show, and Bobby's mother later told reporters, "It affected all of us. I'll start crying while driving. I mean, we saw her face. She made it to the surface and she looked directly at us."
The Connells' lawsuit (and the one that will probably follow from Brancheau's widower) comes on the heels of a damning report issued by OSHA that cited SeaWorld for routinely putting Brancheau at risk of death by allowing her in close proximity to Tilikum, a frustrated animal who had already killed twice.
Please contact the Blackstone Group (which owns SeaWorld) and insist that it close the tanks before another animal or human dies or another child is traumatized for life.
An investigation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) into the "death by orca" of trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando has resulted in three citations against the marine park for safety violations, including willfully exposing employees to life-threatening hazards when interacting with orcas. OSHA assessed SeaWorld with the maximum penalty—a $75,000 fine.
According to OSHA regional administrator Cindy Coe, "SeaWorld recognized the inherent risk of allowing trainers to interact with potentially dangerous animals." She added, "Nonetheless, it required its employees to work within the pool walls, on ledges, and on shelves where they were subject to dangerous behavior by the animals."
The citations are all the more noteworthy considering the fact that SeaWorld tried to sway OSHA's findings and attempted to thwart the investigation at every turn, according to a former staffer, who also says that SeaWorld withheld documents from OSHA and refused to allow inspectors to talk with trainers. OSHA was also pressured by a Florida politician who was worried about losing those SeaWorld dollars that fill the state's coffers.
In the wake of the report, PETA is renewing our call for the release of all the orcas at SeaWorld to seaside rehabilitation pens.
"[T]he only thing that will prevent misery and death in the future is for SeaWorld to stop capturing and confining wild marine mammals and to let these orcas go," said PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk. "The list of human beings—Keltie Byrne, Alex Martinez, Ken Peters, Steve Aibel, and Dawn Brancheau—who have been killed or maimed by captive killer whales, and the list of orca families torn apart by SeaWorld's greed, will only otherwise grow."
PETA is also calling on Florida Governor Charlie Crist to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate SeaWorld's actions. We hope you'll write to the governor, too—and whatever you do, never go within a country nautical mile of a SeaWorld park.
Linda Simons, SeaWorld's former safety chief, told PETA that she was fired from her job after she cooperated with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation into the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was battered to death by an orca named Tilikum, aka Tilly.
We linked Simons up with Good Morning America and she told them about the "Tilly Talk," the orientation that SeaWorld staffers get about the dangers of working with orcas. According to Simons, staffers were told that if a person were to go into the water with Tilly, the person would "come out a corpse." She also said that only a couple of weeks before Brancheau's death, the park held a practice drill on how to handle an orca incident, and the standard critique of the drill was not even completed because the drill had failed so badly.
Simons claims that SeaWorld withheld documents from OSHA investigators and blocked interviews with trainers—interviews that might have been critical in assessing blame.
SeaWorld has a history of bullying authorities into sweeping bad press under the rug. Following a 2006 attack by an orca on a trainer at SeaWorld in San Diego, the California division of OSHA concluded that it was "only a matter of time" before someone was killed, but the agency withdrew its findings after being blasted by pressure from SeaWorld.
OSHA's report should be out later today and is likely to find that SeaWorld was negligent—despite influence from SeaWorld and a shameless U.S. representative from Florida.
Please join PETA in calling on Florida's governor to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute SeaWorld for the involuntary manslaughter of Dawn Brancheau.
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