Written by PETA
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
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
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