Tag Archives: Dawn Brancheau

Can SeaWorld Really Send Our Killer Whales to China? Will They?

“Ocean Kingdom is the first phase of transforming the last of the undeveloped Pearl River Delta islands into what Mr. Su describes as the “Orlando of China” which “will become the new benchmark for the theme park industry.”  The Chimelong Group.
The short answer is yes, they can send the orcas to a foreign country. It is a viable option, and there are no regulations to prevent it.
The recent shake-ups at SeaWorld show that this corporate business means business – they are replacing the CEO, restructuring the company’s Board of Directors, and in a Grinchy move they laid off over 300 employees in the middle of the holidays. They added some impressive independent consultants with marketing and business backgrounds to take the reins and reboot SeaWorld’s tired business model.
They are showing themselves to be competent, brilliant, and somewhat ruthless in their makeover – but what it means for the animals, and what anyone can do about it is a big question.

The whales can't speak, they are relying on you to see past the hype and recognize their plight.
The whales can’t speak, they are relying on you to see past the hype and recognize their plight.

Unfortunately for the iconic orcas, SeaWorld doesn’t have a lot of options.  They can continue as they have for the past 50 years and hope that they can drown out the animal rights community by launching a savvy advertising campaign (doomed to fail given the power of social networks), they can follow through on their present expansion plans to increase pool size (doomed to fail given given that it doesn’t address the fundamental needs of the whales), they can open their doors to scientists and researchers from around the world, while exploring alternatives such as sea pens (the best option, it will bring in money and restore public opinion, but expensive initially), or they can decide to keep a few orcas and sell/loan the rest overseas to China and other countries (quick, dirty, and cheap).
The former CEO will now serve on the board as adviser on conservation and on their plans for “international expansion”:

[The] current CEO and President, Jim Atchison, will become Vice Chairman of the Board.
In addition, Mr. Atchison will serve as a consultant to the Company with respect to international expansion and the Company’s conservation initiatives. The Company will also nominate Mr. Atchison to serve as the chairman of the board of the not-for-profit, independent SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. (See press release).

Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, the "Orlando of China". (Leszoosdelemonde)
Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, the “Orlando of China”. (Leszoosdelemonde)

China’s new “Orlando Project” lends credence to the rumors that have been circulating that is helping China to develop theme parks along the lines of what no longer works in the US. According to Macao Magazine:

The Orlando project represents a major gamble for Chimelong, the private company based in Guangzhou, which is building the resort. Founded in 1989, the company has invested in environmental tourism, hotels and holiday resorts, with its major project a safari park, circus and tourist centre in Panyu, a southern district of Guangzhou.
Orlando, in central Florida, is the model for the Hengqin development. The city has turned sugar cane fields and citrus plantations into one of the most visited cities in the United States. This is because of Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World, which is 34 kilometres to the south. In addition, it hosts the second largest convention complex in the country.
Chimelong wants to follow the example of Orlando. It has hired major U.S. design firms  PGAV and WATG  for two major parts of the project, the Ocean World and the Ocean Hotel. Based in Honolulu, Hawaii, WATG has designed hotels and resorts in more than 100 countries across the world.

SeaWorld has already moved four orcas to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa, where they produced two calves. SeaWorld, while claiming that they do not take orcas from the wild has also absorbed the wild caught orca Morgan into their stables there.
The Spanish trainer Alexis Martinez was killed at Loro Parque a few months before Dawn Brancheau was killed in SeaWorld Orlando, and now one of the Loro Parque trainers, Julien Forestier,  is head trainer for Chimelong, the “Orlando of China” project:

Julien Forestier:
Manager of Animal Training Guangzhou Chimelong Group Zhuhai Project April 2012 – Present (2 years 9 months)Hengqin Island, China Previously:
Senior Animal Trainer Loro Parque July 2010 – March 2012 (1 year 9 months)Tenerife, Canary Islands
Supervisor of Animal Training Dolfinarium February 2001 – June 2010 (9 years 5 months)Harderwijk, Netherlands
Marine Mammal Trainer Connyland February 2000 – November 2000 (10 months)Lipperswil, Switzerland

Also from Orlando, Florida and working for the Orlando in China project is Alan Stein, Executive Producer, Entertainment at Guangzhou Chimelong Group Zhuhai Project, previously at Busch Gardens Entertainment Corporation.

At least two orcas caught in Russia last year are headed for China. (Tumblr).
At least two orcas caught in Russia last year are headed for China. (Tumblr).

In a park that wants to be the biggest marine themed amusement facility in the world, the lack of orca superstars has left Chimelong missing the jewels in their crown. Because orcas are somewhat protected in the wild through international agreement it is hard to get them, although the Russians obtained permits to capture two (2) to be imported to China.

 Erich Hoyt, co-director of the Far East Russia Orca Project and research fellow with Whale and Dolphin Conservation, says his group discovered the orcas came from Nakhodka, near Vladivostok, and were captured as part of two operations targeting killer whales in August and October last year, in the Okhotsk Sea.On December 21, [2013] Hoyt says, his group learnt the two orcas had been transported to China via Vladivostok.
Sources told them the whales were bound for Ocean Kingdom, he adds. If that is the case, they are likely to become the first killer whales to go on show in the mainland of China.

But two orcas (there are now rumored to be three who may wind up there) is hardly enough for a country that hopes to have the most, the biggest, the most entertaining marine parks in the world, and with wild captures difficult to come by the orcas now “owned”  by SeaWorld (before 1994 the whales could not be owned by theme parks, but after lobbying Congress the amusement parks changed this) would be welcome to their pools.
SeaWorld, for their part, would finally be able to infuse the inbred population of killer whales with wild genes from the orcas caught by Russia.
They can also take their dog and pony show to foreign countries where the presence of animal rights hovers between none and very little. From Wikipedia:
images china

  • The 2010 documentary San Hua by Guo Ke is the first to depict China’s cat-meat industry. In one scene, Guo and fellow activists stop a transport truck and find “more than 300 cats crammed into cramped wooden cages, unable to move”—some missing tails and others “crushed into unconsciousness.” In another scene at Fa’s Cat Restaurant, Guo used a hidden camera to film cooks beating cats with a wooden stick, dumping them into a fur-removal machine, and then boiling them.
  • Pictures have also circulated featuring two dogs in boiling water in China. It’s claimed this is because some Chinese prefer the taste of adrenaline-soaked meat. In some areas, dogs are beaten to death in order to release blood into the meat.
  • Yin Yang fish involves deep-frying fish while it’s still alive. The practice has been condemned by animal-rights activists. Many chefs in Taiwan are no longer willing to prepare it, but it’s popular in mainland China.
  • Some chefs cook a carp’s body while keeping its head wrapped in a cloth so that it can keep breathing. In 2009, a video of Chinese diners prodding and eating alive a fried fish went viral on YouTube and provoked an outcry from PETA.
  • On streets in China, live scorpions are “scooped up alive and wriggling, skewered on a kebab, and deep-fried in oil.”
  •  China is the biggest fur-producing nation. Some fur animals are skinned alive, and others may be beaten to death with sticks.
  • Live-animal key rings. In Beijing, vendors sell fish, turtles, and amphibians as key rings and mobile-phone decorations. Animal-rights activists condemn the practice because the animals may run out of air and die quickly, and they may also pose hazards to human health. An Avaaz petition against these keychains had 980,000 signatures as of July 2014
  • According to Prof. Peter J. Li, a few Chinese zoos are improving their welfare practices, but many remain “outdated”, have poor conditions, use live feeding, and employ animals for performances. Safari parks may feed live sheep and poultry to lions as a spectacle for crowds.

SeaWorld also will not have to be bothered by pesky reporters and bloggers keeping an eye on them, since China has been rated the second highest nation for imprisoning reporters (Iran is first) – so verifiable claims of poor treatment of the animals will not be known.

 China’s use of anti-state charges and Iran’s revolving door policy in imprisoning reporters, bloggers, editors, and photographers earned the two countries the dubious distinction of being the world’s worst and second worst jailers of journalists, respectively. Together, China and Iran are holding a third of journalists jailed globally—despite speculation that new leaders who took the reins in each country in 2013 might implement liberal reforms.

Because the “Orlando in China” is located on the mainland, visas are required in order for foreigners to visit Chimelong.  That means China can keep out any individuals active in animal rights that they choose.
How can SeaWorld just move the orcas to China or other foreign countries?
Those same revisions that gave them ownership of the whales (previously the theme parks were only allowed to display the orcas in trust) gave them blanket permission to ship the orcas anywhere without a permit and just 15 days notice* as long as the destination meets the feeble standards provided by the Animal Welfare Act*, standards that were set in part by the amusement parks themselves.  (*The items marked with an asterisk are corrections from the original).
Here is the relevant part in the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as amended:

B) A permit under this paragraph shall grant to the person to which it is issued the right, without obtaining any additional permit or authorization under this Act, to—
(i) take, import, purchase, offer to purchase, possess, or transport the marine mammal that is the subject of the permit; and
(ii) sell, export, or otherwise transfer possession of the marine mammal, or offer to sell, export, or otherwise transfer possession of the marine mammal—
(I) for the purpose of public display, to a person that meets the requirements of clauses (i), (ii), and (iii) of subparagraph (A);
(II) for the purpose of scientific research, to a person that meets the requirements of paragraph (3); or
(III) for the purpose of enhancing the survival or recovery of a species or stock, to a person that meets the requirements of paragraph (4).
(C) Any progeny of a marine mammal born in captivity before the date of the enactment of the Marine Mammal Protection Act Amendments of 1994 [April 30, 1994] and held in captivity for the purpose of public display shall be treated as though born after that date of enactment.

How likely is SeaWorld to chose this course of action? It is impossible to say at this point, but they will do what it takes to stop the financial hemorrhaging before a hostile takeover by another company can happen. They may dump the brand, dump the animals, lick their wounds and become something else entirely, if that is the only course that they see.
It is up to you to let them know that you would again love SeaWorld and what it stands for if they re-invent themselves as a company that wants to preserve the oceans and marine life for future generations. Contact them at SeaWorld Cares.
What else you can do:
Contact your Congress representatives and ask them to put stricter controls on the captive industry.
Sign petitions that come your way, it just takes a few seconds.
*Review MMPA – Introduce/Enforce Ban on Dolphin/Whale Exportation
Free Morgan
End the Captive Breeding Program
Release Tilikum
Force SeaWorld to Pay for Decimating the Southern Resident Orca Population

Blackstone CEO Claims That Had He Watched Blackfish He Would Not Have Made a Mistake

Blackstone sold off much of their SeaWorld stock.
Blaming the victim while making a fortune.

Yesterday’s statement by the CEO of the Blackstone Group blaming SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau for her own death came as a surprise, and counters what SeaWorld representatives have stated under oath in the past – however it is in alignment with the initial statements put forth by SeaWorld in the days following the tragedy.

The top executive at SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.’s largest shareholder suggested that former SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau should be blamed for her own death, claiming that the veteran animal trainer broke multiple safety rules before she was pulled into a tank and killed by a six-ton orca in February 2010.
SeaWorld “had one safety lapse — interestingly, with a situation where the person involved violated all the safety rules that we had,” Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive officer of private-equity giant Blackstone Group, said in an interview Thursday on CNBC. Orlando Sentinel.

SeaWorld has spent a considerable amount of money and energy lately trying to undermine and deflect the effectiveness of the film Blackfish, but they are unable to make much progress – it just isn’t possible to rewrite history in this age of independent media. For instance, ABC news (see below) was able to obtain medical information on another incident in which a whale attacked a trainer and left him paralyzed. What SeaWorld doesn’t want you to know is that the whale was partially blind, and the trainers were not fully informed:

Schwartzman later recanted his statement about Dawn Brancheau’s death, and claimed to have been uninformed having never watched Blackfish – if that is true it means that indifference to the health and safety of the trainers goes all the way to the top of the corporate ladder, as long as the show goes on and billions of dollars are taken from families’ pockets to build corporate assets. And had he watched the film, he would have seen that a SeaWorld spokesman also blamed the victim in the days following the attack and that it was only after a thorough investigation by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) that they reversed their statements.

“Mr. Schwarzman was unaware of the precise circumstances of the incident, which occurred nearly four years ago, and his comments did not accurately reflect the facts of the accident or SeaWorld’s longstanding position on it. Dawn’s death remains a source of great sadness for her family, friends and colleagues and Blackstone regrets the error.”Orlando Sentinel.

The problem for SeaWorld and Blackstone is that there is no way to sugar-coat the fact that keeping whales in tanks is not healthy or safe for the people who work with them.  The question is, do they really care?

Does SeaWorld Discriminate? Have You Seen a Minority Whale Trainer?

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

While the world watches and waits to see what will happen to the hundreds of dolphins who face slaughter in Taiji, Martin Luther King’s words of compassion and personal responsibility remind us that society will never be just if we don’t make an effort to right wrongs when it is in our ability to do so.

Even as SeaWorld sits mute on the annual dolphin slaughter, they also remain mute on their failure to represent persons of color in their high-profile trainer line up. Until recently, when people learned how miserable the whales can be in confinement,  becoming a whale trainer seemed to be a glamorous job, one that every child had the right to dream about.

Unless your skin was dark.

How often have you seen a minority trainer among SeaWorld's elite?
How often have you seen a minority trainer among SeaWorld’s elite?

According to Death at SeaWorldthere was only one African-American trainer, although I can’t verify if he was among the elite whale trainers or whether he was involved with the comical seal shows. SeaWorld doesn’t disclose information on its hiring and recruitment programs.

Jeff’s friend and confidante Samantha Berg was not about to give up her job either. She
loved working at SeaWorld, though she did feel out of place with her dark curly hair and the
only Jewish surname in the department (there was one African-American; the rest were white
and decidedly gentile). Nearly all the other female trainers were tall, fair-haired and willowy.
gentile). Nearly all the other female trainers were tall, fair-haired and willowy – except for one
other dark-haired New Yorker, of Italian descent, who worked at Sea Lion and
Otter Stadium. When Sam was transferred to the stadium, the two became great friends. They
both thought it was pretty funny they had been hired at all,
Two months after Dawn died, the Department of Labor cited SeaWorld parks for
employment records that showed a “disparate impact” on African-American and Hispanic
applicants. As a result, the company was required to contact nearly 1,000 qualified applicants
578 who had been denied employment and either offer them a job or a portion of the modest
settlement mandated by the government.

What makes this a painful fact is that SeaWorld has not problem pandering to children as can be seen with the Mattel SeaWorld trainer dolls – yet the reality is that minority children will come to believe that there is no place for them as equals at SeaWorld. That is the pain of prejudice at work.



From an article I wrote in 2011:

When I was looking through the witness reports on [trainer] Dawn Brancheau’s death, I noticed that witness after witness is listed as white. Of the 41 witnesses that were employed at SeaWorld, 3 were black. It looks like two of those were employed in the restaurant, though it is hard to be sure, and none were listed as trainers. None identified themselves as Asian or Native American.
That is less than 7%. The black population of Orlando is 27% (reference). Because SeaWorld has proven itself to be excruciatingly indifferent and obtuse about their statistics, I didn’t even bother trying to contact them this time, but the pictures, and the evidence don’t lie.
It is time to diversify or to face dwindling attendance by people who don’t see themselves represented fairly, and if SeaWorld can’t recruit minorities willing to go in the water with dangerous animals, then it is just another clue that whole segments of our population don’t relate to those circus acts. Instead, SeaWorld could hire people of all races and physical ability to reconstruct livable habitat for the animals and to figure out a way to make money from keeping the whales in sea pens instead of tanks.

It is not just the animals who are hurt at SeaWorld, prejudice and racism leave scars on the lives of those who are made to feel not good enough by prejudice in all its forms.
As SeaWorld celebrates 50 years of being in business, they appear to be celebrating 50 years of business as usual, even though they need riot police to protect them from what most people feel are unfair and unkind policies, as was shown in the recent Rose Parade fiasco.
It is a new era, one that SeaWorld just can’t seem to adjust to quickly enough, which is a shame given all the good they could do with their resources.
Why was a blond child chosen as iconic of SeaWorld?

Seaworld Lashes Back at the Film “Blackfish”

After years of stonewalling and hiding behind a media curtain of information that has been somewhat adjacent to factual reality, Seaworld has finally decided to engage in public debate on the issue of keeping killer whales in amusement parks.  They tried to ignore the book “Death at Seaworld” and fought the federal government on keeping trainers safe (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-kirby/seaworld-suffers-legal-se_b_3041229.html) , but the sensational film Blackfish will soon hit theaters across America – and it cannot be ignored.

What does Seaworld has to say about the blockbuster documentary? (My comments are in blue):
From Seaworld Vice President of Communications, Fred Jacobs:  “Dear Film Critic:  I’m writing to you on behalf of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. You may be aware of a documentary called “Blackfish” that purports to expose SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales (or orcas) and the “truth” behind the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. In the event you are planning to review  this film, we thought you should be apprised of the following. Although “Blackfish” is by most accounts a powerful, emotionally-moving piece of advocacy, it is also shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate. As the late scholar and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously noted: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”
“The film’s most egregious and untrue allegations include”:
“The insinuation that SeaWorld stocks its parks with killer whales captured from the wild. In fact, SeaWorld hasn’t collected a killer whale from the wild in more than 35 years; more than 80% of the killer whales at SeaWorld were born there or in other zoological facilities.”  [This is because public sentiment is against capture, and it is specifically illegal in the state of Washington where Seaworld and other amusement parks captured wild orcas in the past].
“The assertion that killer whales in the wild live more than twice as long as those living at SeaWorld.  While research suggests that some wild killer whales can live as long as 60 or 70 years, their average lifespan is nowhere near that. Nor is it true that killer whales in captivity live only 25 to 35 years. Because we’ve been studying killer whales at places like SeaWorld for only 40 years or so, we don’t know what their lifespans might be—though we do know that SeaWorld currently has one killer whale in her late 40s and a number of others in their late 30s.” [The ‘killer whale in her late 40s is Corky, taken from Canadian waters.  Her family still lives in the area near Vancouver, B.C.].
“The implication that unlike killer whales in the wild, killer whales  in zoos or parks—and specifically Tilikum, the whale involved in Dawn Brancheau’s death—are routinely bullied by other whales.  The word “bullying” is meaningless when applied to the behavior of an animal like a killer whale. Whales live in a social setting with a dominance hierarchy, both at SeaWorld and in the wild. They express dominance in a variety of ways, including using their teeth to “rake” other whales, in the open ocean as well as in parks.” [Whales are unable to escape each other in the confines of the pools.]
“The accusation that SeaWorld callously breaks up killer whale families.  SeaWorld does everything possible to support the  social structures of all marine mammals, including killer whales.  It moves killer whales only when doing so is in the interest of their long-term health and welfare.  And despite the misleading footage in the film, the only time it separates unweaned killer whale calves from their mothers is when the mothers have rejected them.” [Calves are still babies at two years old, whether or not they are still nursing. They are the equivalent of a two year old child in their development].
“The accusation that SeaWorld mistreats its killer whales with punishment-based training that’s designed to force them to learn unnatural behaviors. SeaWorld has never used punishment-based training on any of its animals, including Tilikum, only positive reinforcement. And the behaviors it reinforces are always within the killer whale’s natural range of behaviors.” [Withholding food is considered punishment].
“The accusation that SeaWorld trainers were not adequately informed about Tilikum. From the time Tilikum first arrived at SeaWorld, all trainers were warned—both as part of their training and in writing—that they were not allowed in the water with him. In fact, as was widely reported and covered at length in the OSHA proceedings, Tilikum has always had his own set of training protocols and only the most experienced trainers have been allowed to work with him.” [The trainers were not fully informed of the deaths].
The accusation that SeaWorld tried to “spin” the story of Dawn Brancheau’s death, changing its story several times and blaming her for the tragedy. As the movie itself shows, it was local law enforcement—not SeaWorld—that issued the initial report that Dawn had accidentally fallen into the water. SeaWorld’s account of what happened—that Tilikum had grabbed Dawn’s ponytail and pulled her in—never varied.  And the company has never blamed Dawn for what happened. (The person in the film who did was not a SeaWorld spokesperson.) [Was it not a Seaworld employee?]
“The assertion that Tilikum attacked and killed Dawn Brancheau because he was driven crazy by his years in captivity. Tilikum did not attack Dawn.  All evidence indicates that Tilikum became interested in the novelty of Dawn’s ponytail in his environment and, as a result, he grabbed it and pulled her into the water”. [This is contested, and all evidence indicates that Dawn was pulled in by her arm, not her ponytail.]
“These are only the most egregious of the film’s many misrepresentations.  “Blackfish” is similarly misleading and inaccurate in its account of the other fatal incidents in which Tilikum was supposedly involved, what happened at Loro Parque, the training and qualifications of SeaWorld trainers, and the care and living conditions enjoyed by SeaWorld’s orcas.” [How so?]
“And the list goes on…and on.  SeaWorld is proud of its legacy of supporting marine science and environmental awareness in general and the cause of killer whales in particular. Our point in sending you this note is to make you aware that what “Blackfish” presents as unvarnished reality is anything but. We don’t expect this to settle the debate, but rather we hope it will begin one. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Fred Jacobs“. [Please do contact him as he has requested!]
Contact information for Fred Jacobs:
Fred Jacobs
Vice President, Communications
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
E-mail: Fred.Jacobs@SeaWorld.com

Tilikum, a Bored and Broken Killer Whale; His Tragic Tale Will Soon be Out in Paperback

Just in time for summer, Death At Seaworld will soon hit the shelves in paperback – light and portable, it will be even harder to put down than was the hardback version.  The book chronicles the death of Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau at the jaws of Tilikum, the enormous killer whale who grabbed and dismantled her, his third victim.
Author David Kirby crafts the story in such a way that the reader comes to understand how the whale’s mind and body have been psychologically and physically damaged by life in captivity, ultimately leading to his aberrant attacks on humans (which never occur in the wild).  You can’t help but wonder where the breaking point is for all the rest of the captive orcas, when another one will snap and end the life of another a human being.
Following Dawn’s death Tilikum’s days have been spent drifting aimlessly in the confines of his featureless tank, looking bored, broken, and unhealthy.  He occasionally participates  in shows to break the monotony.
You might want to pre-order your copy of Death at Seaworld at Amazon to get it when first released so you have time to read it before the film Blackfish is released a few weeks later…you’ll want to be prepared. See below to find out how get the author’s autograph.

#1 Readers Poll Choice for Summer Books –Wall Street Journal Online
“Kirby makes a passionate case for captivity as the reason orcas become killers (and) tells the story like a thriller. His argument is, for the most part, fair and persuasive… We probably can’t free the orcas in captivity today, but we could make the current group of captive killer whales the last.”
–Wall Street Journal

Belying their claim to be in the business of education, Seaworld bends facts to hide the damage captive conditions causes the animals in their care. In this video, the viewers are told that Tilikum’s dorsal fin flops over his back because of genetics but there is no research to support this, and it happens to a frightening number of unrelated captive whales.
And on the subject of research, even though Seaworld claims that keeping whales in tanks make it possible to do research that will ultimately help both the whales’ wild brethren and humanity (how?), it would be easier to get the formula for Coca Cola than it is to find what research has been done by them. Various scientists have reported that Seaworld rarely grants access to the whales, even for observational studies which would not interfere with the amusement park’s programs.

image002 dasw cover pb

From Fins and Fluke:

Please join our “Death at SeaWorld” paperback initiative to get this incredible book on the best-sellers list! If you preorder the book and send us proof-of-purchase we will send you a signed sticker by David Kirby to put in the front of your new book! Already own the hardback? No problem; consider ordering a paperback and donating to a library or high school to get the word out. https://www.facebook.com/events/420429341398500/

SeaWorld Shows Contempt for Government Safety Protocols (Video)

BItPw3jCcAEv7_2 Lp orca socks
OSHA representative’s socks sported an orca – a reminder of the danger posed by these powerful animals? (Photo by Mike Deforrest, clickorlando.com)

The Ocean Advocate attended yesterday’s hearing in which SeaWorld continued its battle against OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) – SeaWorld wants to allow trainers to jeopardize their lives for entertainment, but the government finds the safety of human lives to be paramount.  The following is from the eyewitness coverage by Ocean Advocate, SeaWorld Full of Excuses and Contradictions at PMA Extension Hearing.
Published April 25, 2013

“SeaWorld and OSHA went at it again yesterday to decide if the Petition for Modification of Abatement Date (PMA) should be extended for a 6 month request.”
“OSHA insists that SeaWorld must prove that factors were beyond their control in order to extend the PMA. They said the PMA was denied because the employees are not protected.”

“SeaWorld maintains the stance that the current protocols of distance prevent the whales from grabbing or hitting the trainers allows trainers time to move away if a whale moves… They say trainers don’t have to approach a whale if they don’t want to “unless conditions are optimal”. Optimal is defined by the whale’s compliance during a line-up.”
“For now, SeaWorld was given two weeks to write the Limited Protective Order on the 26 protocols, then the post-hearing briefs will be due 30 days later. Although Judge Welsch requested that the case be handled expeditiously, SeaWorld, of course, didn’t feel the need. Go figure!”

News report of SeaWorld in violation of safety standards:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Actress threatened by captive orca?

Author David Kirby (DEATH AT SEAWORLD: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity) recently reported that an actress, during filming at Marineland in France,  felt threatened by a captive orca:

Marion Cotillard, who won the Best Actress Oscar for La Vie en Rose and will soon be seen in the summertime blockbuster,The Dark Knight Rises, is speaking out about an incident she experienced with a killer whale while filming on the set of Rust and Bone, a French import due in US theaters this fall. “One of the whales kind of went mad at me,” the actress recalled. “She screamed at me with her jaws wide open.”
Cotillard was filming at the Marineland park in Antibes, France when the act of aggression occurred. Her statement is eerily reminiscent of captive orca aggression described in the book Death at SeaWorld, Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity.
The book, to be released July 17th by St. Martin’s Press, recounts the brutal killing of beloved orca trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010, and theorizes that captivity is so stressful on these intelligent, free-ranging animals, it drives them to turn on humans (no orca has ever seriously attacked a human in the wild in all recorded history, while four people have died in killer whale tanks since 1991).
Cotillard, ironically, is herself adamantly opposed to orca captivity. Rust and Bone required her to work daily with killer whales, and persuade them to do silly tricks, “a task she found unpalatable after years of campaigning for animal welfare and supporting charities including WildAid and Greenpeace,” according to the London Evening Standard.
“I’ve always had a repulsion going in a place where animals are in captivity. I had to work through my rejection of this world, which I still feel. But I had a job,” she said. “Even though the orcas are as big as trucks, they’re animals, and you have a connection with them.” The actress added that she felt guilty when she withheld treats from the killer whales.

You have a rare opportunity to learn more about the dangers of keeping orcas in captivity – on Saturday, July 21st, a panel of  scientists, former SeaWorld trainers, writers, filmmakers and others will be in Friday Harbor, Washington, and the public is invited to join them in discussing cetaceans in captivity.  Please click here for more information:
Eventbrite - Killer Whales in the Wild Versus in Captivity - Meet the experts and participate in the discussion.

SeaWorld found responsible in the case of trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death

Judge Ken Welsch has reached his decision in the SeaWorld vs OSHA case, in which SeaWorld tried to overturn the citations against them following the grisly death of trainer Dawn Brancheau by the orca whale Tilikum in 2010.
While reducing the penalty to $12,000 and downgrading the citation from ‘willful’ to ‘serious’, the judge has ruled against SeaWorld and has upheld the finding by OSHA (Occupational and Safety Health Administration) that abatement must be made and the fines paid. While the fee may seem like a slap on the wrist for a multimillion dollar business (and it has no doubt cost them more to fight the ruling), it means that SeaWorld will be unable to put trainers back into dangerous conditions and force them to enter the water with the whales.
Documents provided by author David Kirby from the court proceedings make it clear; no more water work – in other words, the trainers must stay out of the water unless their safety can be  guaranteed.

Item 1 of Citation No. 2, § 5(a)(1): The gravity of this violation is very high. Trainers were required to work in close contact with killer whales during performances. The killer whales sometimes engage in unpredictable behavior, including seizing trainers with their mouths, holdingthe trainers under water, and ramming the trainers while in the water. SeaWorld’s operant conditioning program places an unrealistic burden on trainers to recognize precursors and react appropriately to forestall undesirable behavior.

According to Kirby, in his decision, the Judge has upheld the OSHA citations and that is a win for the employees of SeaWorld, because within 10 days after the Judge’s order becomes final, SeaWorld must abate the hazards and provide documentation to OSHA’s Tampa Area Office that the hazards have been corrected.”
Excerpts from the document:

  • SeaWorld’s contention that it was unaware working with killer whales presents a recognized hazard is difficult to reconcile with numerous comments made over the years by SeaWorld management personnel, including corporate curators of animal training Thad Lacinak and Mr. Tompkins.
  • Whether the trainers were fully immersed and swimming with the killer whales for a waterwork show performance, or standing poolside or on a slideout for a dry work show performance, SeaWorld knew its trainers were at risk for being struck or drowned by a killer whale.
  • The Secretary has established that SeaWorld knew working in close contact with killer whales was a recognized hazard.
  • SeaWorld’s estimate of 98 plus percent predictability is not based on rigorously evaluated scientific data.
  • SeaWorld holds trainers to a near-impossible standard set by upper management, who engage in a form of Monday morning quarterbacking. As a commenter acknowledges in an August 2002 incident report, “Hindsight is always 20/20” (Exh. C-6). Any trainer unfortunate enough to have to file an incident report is subject to second-guessing by his or her superiors, who will always find the trainer did something wrong, otherwise there would be no incident report.
  • As with Tilikum, the Secretary proposes that for performances, SeaWorld either install physical barriers between its trainers and killer whales, or require its trainers to maintain a minimum distance from the killer whales. This proposed abatement is technologically feasible; SeaWorld has been using it since February 24, 2010. SeaWorld has banned waterwork with its killer whales during performances, and trainers perform drywork from behind barriers.
  • The proposed abatement is also economically feasible. SeaWorld did not argue that performing drywork from behind barriers or banning trainers from waterwork during performances affected it economically. SeaWorld’s killer whales, including Tilikum, have continued to perform in shows at Shamu Stadium without the presence of trainers in the water with them. Trainers perform drywork from behind barriers or at a minimum distance. There was no evidence adduced that the elimination of waterwork or the implementation of barriers for drywork has had a negative impact on SeaWorld’s profits… Prohibiting waterwork and using physical barriers and minimum distances eliminate the trainers’ exposure to the recognized hazard of working with killer whales. Proximity to the killer whales is the factor that determines the risk to the trainers…. The court finds the Secretary established a feasible means to eliminate the recognized hazard.
  • This audio recording, from Voice of the Orcas, gives background information on this case:

    This book tells the complete story of trainer risk at SeaWorld

    Kirby’s book will help you to understand what is going on behind the scenes at SeaWorld, and why so many people are against keeping these whales in captivity:
    Take the pledge to buy this book on July 17th, 2012 – help protect trainers from attack and end captivity for whales.
    One of the “great books” of the summer
    The Columbus Dispatch

    #1 Readers Poll Choice for Summer Books
    Wall Street Journal Online

    “Lives are at stake here, and Kirby can be trusted to tell the story, having won a passel of awards for his investigative work.”
    — Library Journal

    “Journalist Kirby offers another passionate industry exposé … the narrative goes into high gear with its concluding confrontation.”
    Publisher’s Weekly

    “As David Kirby so eloquently documents in this timely work, Killer-whale captivity only benefits the captors. It is impossible to read ‘Death at SeaWorld’ and come to any other conclusion.”
    –Jane Goodall, Ph.D., D.B.E., Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace
    “Entertaining, engaging and enraging – The fairy tale fantasy that the captivity marine mammal industry has spun for the unwary public is expertly unraveled in this non-fiction crime thriller.”
    — Louie Psihoyos, Academy Award winning director of The Cove
    “In this authoritative and superbly investigative page-turner, certain to ruffle feathers and fins, David Kirby … reports brilliantly on the escalating troubles and conflicts, the surprising and sordid underbelly of life — and death — at SeaWorld.”
    Erich Hoyt, author of the best-selling classic Orca: The Whale Called Killer
    “’Death at SeaWorld’ is one of the most important books, if not the most important book, ever written on the horrific plight of captive cetaceans. Kirby systematically dismantles the arguments used to justify keeping these incredibly intelligent and sentient beings in aquatic cages.
    — Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals
    “This is a book everyone should read… David Kirby’s ‘Death at SeaWorld’ outlines in grim detail just how bad captivity is for orcas and other marine mammals.”
    — Richard O’Barry, Director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project and star of The Cove
    “At last, both sides of the story behind the events at SeaWorld are being told and the truth is finally getting out there. Every budding orca trainer should consider this the must-read book of their career.”
    –Dr. Ingrid N. Visser, Founder & Principal Scientist, Orca Research Trust
    “One helluva book! David Kirby provides the most complete and accurate account of what I perceive as a transgression of morality toward the animal kingdom—the slavery of orcas, supreme beings in the aquatic world.”
    –Ken Balcomb, Director, Center for Whale Research
    “David Kirby’s research is impeccable and his words unforgettable.  You will never view dolphin and orca shows the same way again.”
    – Lori Marino, PhD, Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, Emory University

    “This remarkable book deserves to be acknowledged as the most significant and moving account of the often disastrous interaction of cetaceans and humans since Moby-Dick.”
    –Richard Ellis, author of Men and Whales, The Empty Ocean, and The Great Sperm Whale

Wow! SeaWorld – Discrimination in Hiring? Unsafe Working Conditions?

Apparently SeaWorld is raking it in while raking its employees over the coals.
Author David Kirby has uncovered much about SeaWorld that has previously been kept out of public scrutiny, and he reveals it all in his soon to be released book, “Death At SeaWorld”.  In a recent press release, Kirby shared a few of his discoveries of what goes on behind the scenes at these amusement parks.
Here are some samples of what the book covers:

Two former employees filed sworn affidavits alleging that SeaWorld hid or destroyed documents sought by federal agents in the investigation of Brancheau’s death, and tried to impede other parts of the investigation. (Both whistleblowers subsequently retracted their allegations within a short period of time of each other.
One of the whistleblowers alleged that senior male trainers at Shamu Stadium had sexually harassed female trainers, asking for sexual favors in exchange for more “water time” with the whales. When asked about the matter, SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs did not deny the allegations.
•SeaWorld was the subject of a lengthy audit and investigation by the US Department of Labor over unfair hiring practices. Government inspectors asserted that more than 1000 qualified African-American and Hispanic applicants had been turned down for employment.
• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited SeaWorld for a “willful” violation of the law in the Brancheau incident and said the company had acted with plain indifference to employee safety.
• SeaWorld will likely challenge any negative ruling from its appeal to the OSHA violation, which would send the case to Washington, DC, where the ongoing process would pit SeaWorld’s owner, The Blackstone Group, against US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Blackstone’s CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, is a major-league supporter of Mitt Romney and once compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler.

• SeaWorld routinely allowed its most senior trainers to put themselves in extremely vulnerable positions with Tilikum, even though he had already been involved in the death of two people.
• Some SeaWorld defenders said the incident was Dawn’s fault and she should never have been in such a vulnerable position. But several SeaWorld witnesses at the hearing to overturn the OSHA violation testified that Dawn did not break protocol that day.
• Despite the clear danger of being in shallow water so close to Tilikum, SeaWorld to this day considers what Dawn was doing when she died to be “dry work” instead of “water work.”
SeaWorld had been clearly warned of the risks in allowing water work. Following a serious incident at SeaWorld San Diego in 2006 in which a trainer nearly drowned, the California state OSHA wrote: “If someone hasn’t been killed already, it is only a matter of time before it does happen.”
• SeaWorld successfully exerted its considerable political influence to have the death warning redacted from the final report that was issued in 2007.
Contrary to popular belief, SeaWorld conducts only limited scientific research on killer whales in its collection, and does very little to directly impact wild orca habitat.
• A careful review of the published, peer-reviewed literature shows that most studies done on SeaWorld’s orcas pertain to the husbandry of captive animals, with little benefit for those in the ocean.
• SeaWorld does not appear to be active in saving the threatened and endangered orcas of the Pacific Northwest or the wild salmon on which they depend.


For more on the press release and the book, please go to Death At SeaWorld

Banning Books in the 21st Century: Is “Death At SeaWorld” Too Revealing?

For some reason there continues to be an effort to ban author David Kirby’s new book, Death At SeaWorld.

The forthcoming book is reputed to examine both the risk to humans and the viability of keeping whales in captivity. By all accounts the book is well researched and documented, and although it focuses on the deaths of trainers it does so in order to point out the danger of confining large animals in relatively small space.
Now some individuals have decided that Kirby is profiting from the death of one of the people killed by the orca Tilikum, Dawn Brancheau (although Tilikum was involved in the death of three people) and therefore his book should be banned. By that logic, no one should be able to write about John Kennedy – yet new books continue to be written about his assassination decades later.
This video was recently posted, and is followed by the comment: “Let’s have a book burning with all the copies?”

I wonder if kids are still expected to read Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s novel that examines the consequences of too much TV and censorship. In the novel, firemen burn every book (451 degrees Fahrenheit is given as the temperature that paper burns), because reading makes people think for themselves…

Voice of the Orcas, a website developed by former SeaWorld trainers is a rich source of information, with a user-friendly  page  containing interviews by experts.  They readily share their resources, and there you will learn  why Kirby’s book is essential in unmasking the dangers of keeping orcas in captivity, which is apparently something some folks just don’t want you to know.

Death At SeaWorld can be bought here.

Four people are known to have been killed, many more have sustained injuries. (From Voice of the Orcas)