SeaWorld’s Case Against The Government Not Going Swimmingly…Updated 9/23/11

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SeaWorld appears to be in a tank of hot water over discrepancies in their version of the circumstances associated with trainer Dawn Brancheau’s violent death in the jaws of a killer whale last year. Testimony from observers conflicts with SeaWorld’s accounting of the incident, and video apparently supports the witnesses. 
(Update 9/21/11  Chuck Tompkins, corporate curator of zoological operations for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has admitted to keeping incomplete records on aggressive acts by orcas.  ” SeaWorld has repeatedly failed to document incidents of aggression displayed by killer whales to animal trainers, lawyers for the federal government charged Wednesday…But using separate internal documents — animal profiles that include the behavioral history for each of SeaWorld’s roughly two dozen killer whales — OSHA pointed out a number of events that were never included in the incident-report log, including an incident where a whale lunged into a trainer. OSHA cited five incidents mentioned in a single whale profile that were not included in the incident-report log”. From the Orlando Sentinel.)
(Update 9/23/11  SeaWorld attorneys asked a killer whale expert if  he could say for certain that a well-fed whale would kill.  (Anyone with a cat can answer that question) .  The hearings are taking longer than expected, and will resume on November 15th).  Please go to The Orca Project for the full story and analysis over the coming days.

For instance, according to the Huffington Post, the myth that Dawn was pulled into the water by her ponytail is being debunked, and it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no safe way for trainers to be in the water with killer whales:

Attorneys for OSHA introduced about 16 minutes of video taken by a witness at the time Brancheau died, but it stopped about a minute before the whale named Tilikum pulled her underwater and drowned her. The video showed Brancheau (bran-CHOH’) on the edge of the pool feeding and directing the whale during a special dining show at the theme park. Later in the show, she’s shown interacting with the whale in the water.
What wasn’t shown Tuesday was footage of Tilikum grabbing her and violently dragging her underwater. The medical examiner said she drowned and suffered traumatic injuries. OSHA’s attorneys declined comment after the hearing on why they didn’t show the footage.

Fredy Herrera, a security officer who was inside Shamu Stadium and witnessed Brancheau’s death, disputed that she was pulled underneath the water by her ponytail – which is part of the account long held by SeaWorld and other witnesses. He said it looked like she was pulled by her arm from his vantage point across the pool.
Because it would be easier for a whale to reach someone’s arm than hair, Herrera’s account bolsters OSHA’s contention that trainers were exposed to dangerous conditions. Going forward, it would also be more difficult to design safety measures to keep whales from grabbing an arm because trainers use their hands to feed and direct the animals.
“The angle that I was across the pool, that’s what I saw,” he said. “I may have a doubt, but that’s what I saw. I saw her arm by the whale going down and that’s why I assumed that is what happened.”

An author and a former trainer were interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN yesterday, and have insightful points of view on the controversy:

(The Orca Project website is an excellent source for background information on this complex subject).

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