Tag Archives: OSHA

What If SeaWorld Held Auditions and No One Came? The ‘Blackfish Effect’ Continues

SeaWorld is having auditions for these and other "educational" characters, but no one seems interested.
SeaWorld is having auditions for these and other “educational” characters, but no one seems interested.

It is not just musicians who are turning their backs on SeaWorld these days. (Trace Adkins, Trisha Yearwood, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, Heart, Barenaked Ladies, Martina McBride, 38 Special, the Beach Boys, and Pat Benedar have all cancelled planned performances there and Joan Jett has lodged a complaint that her music is played at their Shamu shows.) As is the case with musicians, SeaWorld seems to be having trouble finding actors willing to don cartoonish costumes and promote the circus-like aspects of the amusement park as well.
They have repeatedly posted on the message board for an actor’s site, Broadway World and seem to be met with derision each time. Most of the actors are firmly against the idea of being involved with SeaWorld, having seen the film Blackfish. As a group they are very well informed, and did their own research before reaching their conclusions.

Auditions for Performers – SeaWorld
Posted: 2/17/14 at 10:48am
Auditions for 2014 SeaWorld Performers will be held:
Friday February 21, 2014
At SeaWorld Human Resources Training Center 2
10500 Sea World Dr., San Antonio, TX 78251

Visit seaworld auditions for more information.

Seeking: Musicians including Guitar Playing Singers, Steel Drum Band Players, Mimes, Dancers, Costumed Characters, Actors, Scare Squad Actors, Variety Artists. All talents welcome.

Below are some of the replies to the ad posted on the Broadway World message board, and if these are anything to go by, SeaWorld is going to have to stretch to find employees in many other capacities as well:

Posted: 1/6/14 at 10:17am

“Exactly. I have a hard time wrapping my head around anyone who would want to say they work or perform at Sea World now. Sea World has such a negative connotation in the public’s eye.”


Posted: 1/6/14 at 11:43am
“Bigger question: Why is a major casting office trolling BWW for performers?
Can’t Paul rustle up some “showcase cockroaches” for his Sea World needs?”

Posted: 2/8/14 at 03:14pm

SeaWorld is over, dude.
Willie Nelson & Heart

shamu5 sw talent search

Posted: 2/17/14 at 11:35am
“Oh, give it up”.
Posted: 2/17/14 at 11:50am
“Did somebody say Blackfish?”
Posted: 2/17/14 at 12:25pm
“Paul–or Paul’s intern–get your pimping [a**] outta here.”
Posted: 2/17/14 at 01:51pm
“Just going to copy&paste more or less what I said the last time (and the time before that) this guy advertised Seaworld.”

“Of the 158 captive killer whales that have died, more than 2/3 didn’t make it passed 10 years in captivity. Less than 30 orcas survived more than 20 years in captivity. Average time in captivity has improved steadily over the decades, but is still very low.” The average lifespan of a wild orca ranges from 30 to 90 years old.
Then again when you’re feeding questionable quality frozen fish to animals who normally hunt live fish or (in the case of transients) do not eat fish, then have to stuff them with vitamins and gelatin to attempt to give them nutrition and hydration, on top of keeping them in incredibly small, bare tanks that keep them constantly exposed to blazing sun (not to mention at least two whales who have died from West Nile Virus, thanks to Florida mosquitos), all without the normal physical activity and socialization they would achieve in the wild except when they are forced to perform amidst blaring music and noises (just to name a few things)… yeah, I would imagine their life expectancy in captivity is drastically reduced.
Seaworld slaps a fake smile on an industry that is abusive to humans and animals. At least 3 trainer deaths, at least one trainer permanently paralyzed, and countless injuries to trainers, volunteers and other people they allow to interact with the whales. 158 dead whales, almost all well below their normal life expectancy, and all forced into a life that is not even a fraction of what they deserve and would lead in the wild.

“Seaworld is deplorable.”
Posted: 2/17/14 at 03:20pm
“I’d rather audition for regional production of Cats. Seriously.”

And what does SeaWorld teach about whales and dolphins?
And what does SeaWorld teach about whales and dolphins?

Posted: 2/17/14 at 03:44pm
“Hey Paul! How about you live in a bathtub for the rest of your life? Yeah, I’m sure you’d be pretty pissed off too. F Seaworld.”
Posted: 2/17/14 at 04:29pm
“Kidnapping and horrible living conditions of whales aside, who doesn’t want to work at a place that just got investigated by OSHA?”

What Qualities Would Save a Trainer From A Killer Whale Attack?

2011-07-19-Screenshot20110719at4.22.29PM dawn brancheau alexis martinez killed two months apart
Both Dawn Brancheau and Alexis Martinez were attractive, atheletic, experienced trainers – yet they died two months apart at the jaws of two of Seaworld’s whales, Alexis died in Loro Parque, Spain, and Dawn died at Seaworld . Their looks, talent, intelligence, and experience were of no use when the whales decided to attack – yet Seaworld continues to argue against OSHA’s ruling that the only way to keep trainers safe is to put barriers between them and the orcas.  Writes Takepart’s David Kirby:

Eugene Scalia, the son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, once described as “an absolute bulldog” and Wall Street’s “secret weapon,” will argue SeaWorld’s case against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. in a battle that began with the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, killed by the orca Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010.
At issue was whether trainers should be barred from swimming in the water with killer whales, performing tricks with them, or being in close proximity to the whales while onstage poolside or in the slideout areas where trainers often hug, kiss, and cuddle the ocean’s top predators.
In their briefing before the appeals court this time, Scalia and colleagues argued that the entertainment conglomerate “brings profound public educational benefit,” but notes that “Interacting with nature is not without risk—not when mountain climbing or kayaking, not when sailing or swimming in the ocean, not when visiting our national parks. On rare occasions, killer whales can be dangerous. SeaWorld has taken extraordinary measures to control that risk. But it cannot eliminate it while facilitating the interaction between humans and whales that is integral to its mission.”

Yet the industry has a different take. According to an article at Marine Mammal Trainer.com, Can You Become a Trainer Without The Degree?, the answer is that education counts less than an ability to perform and to look good for the camera.

If you think about it, the people who started in 1964 are now running the companies you want to work for. Since they grew up in that culture, they are probably more willing to accept the graduate with an Economics Major.
Another reason it is possible to gain employment without a psychology degree is that it acts as only one of the deciding factors. Marine mammal trainers will always have to know how to train marine mammals. A degree in psychology can help them with this. However, more and more often we are seeing the role of the marine mammal trainer include dancing, acting, speaking, and acrobatic skills. A psychology major cannot help you with this. This degree also can’t help you if you don’t look the part! Marine facilities hire people who are physically fit and look good when their face is on the jumbo-tron. With public perception being a key factor in the company’s bottom line, a background in the arts, a nice physique, and beautiful face may prove more appealing than a piece of paper that says “BS in Psychology.”
There is also no consistent correlation with good animal trainers and psychology degree holders. Understanding animal psychology and behavior often occurs outside the classroom. In fact, we believe that the best type of learning is hands-on. 

This is a recipe for disaster, no matter how you look at it. Seaworld is fighting tooth and nail to put people back in the water with animals that can’t be kept happily in captivity, and the basic criteria for doing so is based more on looks and theater than on animal behavior training.  But ultimately, if a killer whale decides to attack and kill someone, that person is toast.
The industry has relied upon the generous nature of the whales to keep people safe, but as we have seen, that nature has been tested to the breaking point.  There is no safe way to have people in the water with these animals in the confinement of captivity.

Wild orca Molly with her mom (Photo by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research)
Wild Killer Whales have never killed a human. (Photo by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research)


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

Killer Whale Attacks on Trainers (Video) and Mind-boggling Chart Documenting the Occurrences in and Out of the Water

Last year when this video was released it created a media storm, but the list of incidents (below) underscores how very dangerous it is to work with these whales in captivity even if people are not in the water. A big thank you to the Orca Home website for publishing this information!

Incidents between humans and killer whales in captivity –
a longer list than the parks would like to tell you!

Courtesy of Orca Home

“Several accounts of violent incidents with humans have appeared in books and news clips, with little information on the dates or details of those incidents. Other descriptions have made headlines, and some were captured on video tape (beware, those can be quite graphic). There are also anecdotal reports of incidents that were never officially documented.”

(The entries in bright blue are situations that took place out of the water., or where people slipped or were pulled in). Please go to the Orca Home website to find more information.

1960s and 1970s
#1 1968 New York Aquarium, USA Lupa When water level was lowered for pool cleaning, young female Lupa sent trainers scrambling from the pool, snapping her jaws threatening. Edward R. Riciuti, , New York, Walker & Co., 1973, pp. 227-228.
#2 1969 or 1970 Flamingo Park, England Cuddles Young male Cuddles became so increasingly aggressive, having a hold of at least two trainers, that keepers had to clean the pool from the protection of a shark cage. Cuddles also dragged keeper Don Robinson into the pool when he was at Dudley Zoo but that was possibly a PR stunt. Edward R. Riciuti, Killers of the Sea, New York, Walker & Co., 1973, pp. 227-228; Reading Eagle, August 15, 1971; Doug Cartlidge, personal communication, March 2010.
#3 1970s unknown unknown Karen Pryor writes, “I have since heard… of at least one killer whale which launched an unprovoked attack on a favorite trainer, in normal circumstances, savaged him very badly, and nearly killed him.” Karen Pryor, Lads Before the Wind, New York, Harper & Row, 1976, p. 220.
#4 1970’s Vancouver Aquarium, Canada Skana Trainer Doug Pemberton described young female Skana as the dominant animal in the pool. “She is capable of changing moods in minutes”. He described Skana and her young male companion Hyak 2 as “moody”, and recalled that, “Skana once showed her dislike by dragging a trainer around the pool. Her teeth sank into his wetsuit but missed his leg.” Cranky killer whales put trainers through their paces, The Province, May 5, 1978.
#5 1970’s Vancouver Aquarium, Canada Hyak 2 Undocumented report of young male Hyak 2 breaking a trainer’s leg by hitting it with his tail fluke. Story on internet sites but no original source known.
#6 early 1970’s Marine World California, USA Kianu Trainer Jeff Pulaski, accustomed to riding young female Kianu during performances, was thrown off and chased out of the tank. Don C. Reed, Notes from an Underwater Zoo, Dial Press, 1981, p. 250.
#7 early 1970’s Marine World California, USA Nepo Trainer Dave Worcester was dragged to the bottom of the pool by young male Nepo. Don C. Reed, Notes from an Underwater Zoo, Dial Press, 1981, p. 250.
#8 early 1970’s Miami Seaquarium, USA Hugo Administrative director Anthony G. Toran declared that working with young male Hugo has become too risky after Hugo had “made what appeared to be direct efforts to harm the human performers”. St. Petersburg Times, July 24, 1971
#9 early 1970’s Miami Seaquarium, USA Hugo Trainer Chris Christiansen received seven stitches in his cheeks after placing his head within the jaws of young male Hugo, closing his mouth on a mis-cue. Edward R. Riciuti, Killers of the Sea, New York, Walker & Co., 1973, pp. 232-233.
#10 early 1970’s Miami Seaquarium, USA Hugo, Lolita Trainer Manny Velasco recalled both young whales Hugo and Lolita becoming aggressive, lunging at trainers on the platform. Edward R. Riciuti, Killers of the Sea, New York, Walker & Co., 1973, pp. 232-233.
#11 early 1970’s Miami Seaquarium, USA Hugo, Lolita Trainer Chip Kirk got away with a permanent scar on his arm after being pushed around continuously by young male Hugo. Trainer Jeff Pulaski had been grabbed by Hugo, then had his wetsuit torn from him by both Hugo and Lolita. The Miami News, December 17, 1975
#12 early 1970’s Marineland of the Pacific, USA Orky 2 Unidentified male trainer was seized by the leg and held at the bottom of the pool until the man almost lost consciousness by young male Orky 2. Edward R. Riciuti, Killers of the Sea, New York, Walker & Co., 1973, pp. 228-229.
#13 1971/04/20 Sea World California, USA Shamu PR Secretary Annette Eckis, wearing a bikini, slid off the back of an orca she was riding for a publicity stunt. 5-year-old female Shamu seized her leg and swam around the tank refusing to release the screaming woman until familiar divers entered the pool. Eckis suffered lacerations and puncture wounds. Edward R. Riciuti, Killers of the Sea, New York, Walker & Co., 1973, pp. 229-231; Mike Lee, SeaWorld San Diego suspends Shamu show, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 24, 2010;Video.
#14 1974 Windsor Safari Park, England Winston 4-year-old male Winston, then known as Ramu, attacked trainer Doug Cartlidge. There was on official report which was sent to SeaWorld and all other facilities holding orca detailing the attack. SeaWorld have video of Ramu coming out of the water and trying to pull Doug Cartlidge from the training platform. It was part of the video showing all the hand signals before he went over there.
Winston also nearly had HRH Prince of Wales when he was swimming with him…but staff saw the “red eye” and got the prince out just in time. He also had a model and punctured skin on her leg…she sued but was paid off…
Doug Cartlidge, personal communication, March 2010.
#15 late 1970’s Marineland Antibes, France Kim Young male Kim took a trainer in his mouth and held him at the bottom of the pool. Finally releasing him, he allowed the trainer to exit safely. Story on internet sites but no original source known.
#16 1978/05/02 Marineland of the Pacific, USA Orky 2 Trainer Jill Stratton, 27, was nearly drowned when 10-year-old male Orky 2 suddenly pinned her to the bottom of the tank and held her underwater for four minutes. Cathleen Decker, Trainer Leaves Hospital, Isn’t Angry with Whale, Los Angeles Times, May 1978.
#17 1980’s Nanki Shirahama Adventure World, Japan Benkei Male Benkei pinched his trainer’s arm. Story on internet sites but no original source known.
#18 1984/02/23 Sea World California, USA Kandu 5 7-year-old female Kandu 5 took trainer Joanne Hay in her mouth and pinned her against a wall during a performance. Mike Lee, SeaWorld San Diego suspends Shamu show, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 24, 2010.
#19 1984/08/12 Sea World California, USA unknown Two killer whales grabbed the legs of trainer Bud Krames and pinned him against a glass retaining wall during a performance. Krames suffers bruises. Mike Lee, SeaWorld San Diego suspends Shamu show, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 24, 2010.
#20 1984/11/02 Sea World California, USA Kandu 5 7-year-old female Kandu 5 briefly grabbed the legs of trainer Georgia Jones during a Shamu show but released the trainer unhurt. The 4,500-pound killer whale took Jones’ legs in her mouth, but didn’t bite down. Mike Lee, SeaWorld San Diego suspends Shamu show, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 24, 2010.
#21 1986 Marineland Ontario, Canada Kandu 7 There have been reports of trainers being held underwater by the mammals. In 1986, one trainer was taken to the hospital when he fell off young male Kandu 7 and was dragged by the leg around the pool during a stunt. Enzo di Matto, Mahem in Marineland, NOW Magazine, October 10-16, 1996, Vol. 16 No. 6.
#22 1986 Marineland Ontario, Canada Nootka 5 4-year-old female Nootka 5 whacked one trainer in the head with his pectoral during a trick. According to a former trainer, the whale often leapt out of the water to strike trainers by the pool in the chest. Enzo di Matto, Mahem in Marineland, NOW Magazine, October 10-16, 1996, Vol. 16 No. 6.
#23 1986/11/16 Sea World California, USA Kandu 5 9-year-old female Kandu 5 pressed her snout against trainer Mark Beeler and held him against a wall for a few seconds during a performance before several hundred spectators. Dayna Lynn Fried & John Wilkens, Kandu bled to death, San Diego Union-Tribune, August 23, 1989; Mike Lee, SeaWorld San Diego suspends Shamu show, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 24, 2010.
#24 1987 Sea World California, USA unknown Numerous San Diego newspapers reported on a “white paper” disclosing at least 14 trainer injuries of various severity while working with orcas within a five-month period in 1987. Only a few of the incidents have been described in the media. Janny Scott, Waves of trouble at Sea World, Los Angeles Times, December 20, 1987, p. 1.
#25 1987/03/04 Sea World California, USA Kandu 5, Kenau A six-ton orca suddenly grabbed trainer Jonathan Smith, 21, in its teeth, dove to the bottom of the tank, then carried him bleeding to the surface and spat him out. Smith gallantly waved to the crowd – which he attributed to his training as a Sea World performer – when a second orca slammed into him. He continued to pretend he was unhurt as the whales repeatedly dragged him 32 ft to the bottom of the pool. Smith was cut all around his torso, had a ruptured kidney and a six-inch laceration of his liver, yet he managed to escape and get out of the pool. Later reports indicate that the whales involved had been 10-year-old female Kenau and 9-year-old female Kandu 5. Erich Hoyt, The Performing Orca, WDCS, 1992, p. 32; Video.
#26 1987/06/15 Sea World California, USA Kandu 5 Trainer Joanne Webber, 29, suffered a fractured neck when 9-year-old female Kandu 5 landed on top of her and pushed her to the bottom of the pool during a practice session. Webber had five years experience working with orcas. Ex-trainer suing Sea World for neck injury, San Diego Union-Tribune, June 15, 1988, p. B-3.
#27 1987/09/28 Sea World California, USA unknown Trainer Mark McHugh was bitten on the hand while feeding an orca between shows. Killer whale injures trainer, Daily Breeze, October 1, 1987.
#28 1987/09/30 Sea World California, USA unknown While working with one orca during a performance trainer Chris Barlow, 24, was being rammed in the stomach by another orca. Barlow was hospitalized with minor injuries. Killer whale injures trainer, Daily Breeze, October 1, 1987; Mike Lee, SeaWorld San Diego suspends Shamu show, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 24, 2010.
#29 1987/11/21 Sea World California, USA Orky 2 Trainer John Sillick, 26, suffered fractured vertebrae (T1 to T12), a fractured femur, and a fractured pelvis after 19-year-old male Orky 2 breached on top of him while riding on another orca during a performance. Sillick had less than two years experience working with orcas. Robert Reinhold, At Sea World, stress tests whale and man, New York Times, April 4, 1988, p. A-1;Video.
#30 end of 1988 Kamogawa Sea World, Japan unknown In May 1991, one of the trainers that swam with the orcas, told after a show that he had been pinned to the bottom of the pool by an orca and that it happened all the time. Peter Hamilton, Lifeforce Foundation, personal communication May 1991.
#31 1989/04/01 Sealand of the Pacific, Canada Nootka 4 Trainer Henriette Huber fell into the whale pool after 6-year-old female Nootka 4 closed her mouth on her hand while scratching Nootka’s tongue. Several stitches were required to close the puncture wound. Barbara McLintock, Whale bit me – ex trainer, The Province, May 3, 1991.
#32 1989/04/08 Sea World Texas, USA Kasatka 12-year-old female Kasatka mouthed a trainer’s leg. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#33 1989/09/30 Sea World Texas, USA Kasatka 12-year-old female Kasatka mouthed a trainer’s feet. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#34 1989/10/29 Sea World Florida, USA Katina 13-year-old female Katina mouthed a trainer’s waist. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#35 1989 Sealand of the Pacific, Canada Nootka 4 6-year-old female Nootka 4 had grabbed a tourist’s camera that was lowered to water level. Head trainer Steve Huxter grabbed the camera strap and was pulled into the pool. The orca had hold of his leg while he was pulled out by hand by fellow trainer Eric Walters. Dirk Meissner, Safety worries led to Sealand resignations, Times Colonist, February 22, 1991, p. A-1.
#36 1990/04/21 Sea World California, USA Orkid 1-year-old female Orkid bumped a trainer’s head. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#37 1990/07/06 Sea World California, USA Kasatka 14-year-old female Kasatka mouthed a trainer’s thigh. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#38 1990/07/28 Sea World California, USA Corky 2 24-year-old female Corky 2 pushed the mid-section of a trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision September 2010
#39 1991/02/20 Sealand of the Pacific, Canada Haida 2, Nootka 4, Tilikum Trainer Keltie Byrne, 20, slipped into the whale pool and was carried into the middle by 11-year-old female Haida 2, and repeatedly submerged as the other two orcas, 11-year-old female Nootka 4 and 10-year-old male Tilikum, joined in. After futile attempts of rescue, Byrne drowned. Sea World Animal Profiles; Dirk Meissner, Whales pull trainer to death, Times Colonist, February 21, 1991, p. A-1.
#40 1991/07/31 Sea World California, USA Kasatka 14-year-old female Kasatka grabbed a trainer’s foot (termed “jaw popped on foot” in Injury Report) and fluked a trainer’s back. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#41 1992/04/02 Sea World Florida, USA Katina 15-year-old female Katina bumped a trainer’s hip. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#42 1992/10/11 Sea World California, USA Kasatka 14-year-old female Kasatka mouthed a trainer’s foot. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#43 1992 Sea World Ohio, USA Kayla 3-year-old female Kayla pushed a trainer back toward pool during training. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#44 1993/04/25 Sea World California, USA Kasatka 16-year-old female Kasatka tried to bite a trainer (not Kenneth Peters, btw), mouthed feet and legs. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010; Pauline Repard, Killer whale bites trainer, takes him to tank bottom, San Diego Union-Tribune, November 30, 2006.
#45 1993/07/15 Sea World California, USA Kasatka 16-year-old female Kasatka mouthed a trainer’s feet and legs, grabbed a knee and dunked the trainer, grabbed a foot and dunked the trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#46 1993/08/03 Sea World Florida, USA Katina 17-year-old female Katina bumped a trainer’s body. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#47 1994/02/24 Sea World Florida, USA Katina 18-year-old female Katina bumped a trainer’s hand. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#48 1994/06/30 Sea World California, USA Corky 2 28-year-old female Corky 2 pushed a trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision September 2010
#49 1994/10/23 Sea World California, USA Orkid 6-year-old female Orkid bumped a trainer’s thigh. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#50 1995/02/09 Sea World Florida, USA Katina 19-year-old female Katina pushed a trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#51 1995/07/30 Sea World California, USA Takara 4-year-old female Takara swam over a surfaced trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#52 1996/01/25 Sea World California, USA Orkid 7-year-old female Orkid opened her mouth at a trainer and mouthed a trainer’s thigh. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#53 1996/02/09 Sea World California, USA Orkid 7-year-old female Orkid bumped a trainer’s thigh, bumped a trainer’s body and fluked a trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#54 1996/07/03 Sea World California, USA Orkid 7-year-old female Orkid pushed a trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#55 1996/07/20 Sea World Texas, USA Kayla 7-year-old female Kayla split to slide out during the show after a non-bridged behaviour. At that time, a guest tried to touch her and she thrashed her head from side to side with her mouth open. No injury occurred. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#56 1996/11/22 Sea World California, USA Orkid 8-year-old female Orkid head popped a trainer’s arm. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#57 1997/10/03 Sea World California, USA Ulises 20-year-old male Ulises came out at a trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#58 1997/11/15 Sea World California, USA Orkid 9-year-old female Orkid bumped a trainer’s hip. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#59 1998/06/23 Sea World California, USA Orkid 9-year-old female Orkid pushed a kayak with a trainer around. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#60 1998/07/16 Sea World California, USA Orkid 9-year-old female Orkid was performing a hydro-hop behaviour during a night show. The trainer accidentally hit her tail flukes with his hand upon his re-entry and she responded by hitting him in the stomach with her head. She responded to a stage call calmly. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#61 1999/03/09 Sea World California, USA Takara 7-year-old female Takara came out at a trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#62 1999/06/12 Sea World California, USA Kasatka After her calf Takara split to a back pool during a show, 23-year-old Kasatka, the dominant female in the park, began to fast swim around the perimeter, grabbed trainer Kenneth Peters’ leg and attempted to throw him out of the pool at SeaWorld San Diego. Peters was pulled out of the pool by another trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010; Killer whales: Other Sea World attacks, Orlando Sentinel, February 27, 2010.
#63 1999/07/05 Sea World Florida, USA Tilikum A dead man’s naked body was found at SeaWorld Florida in Orlando, scratched, bruised and draped over 18-year-old male Tilikum, the largest killer whale in captivity. The 27-year-old, later identified as a man with a history of mental illness, apparently made his way past security at SeaWorld, remaining in the park after it had closed. Wearing only his underwear, the man either jumped, fell or was pulled into Tilikum’s huge tank. A medical examiner concluded the man suffered hypothermia and drowned. Sea World Animal Profiles; Orlando Sentinel, July 6, 1999.
#64 1999/08/16 Sea World Texas, USA Kayla 10-year-old female Kayla became aggressive with a trainer during a waterwork sequence in the show after several behaviours without reinforcement, in combination with social problems between Kayla and adult female Winnie Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#65 2000s Sea World California, USA Corky 2 34-year-old female Corky 2 prevents a trainer from exiting the water by rostrum “blocking”. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision September 2010
#66 2000s Sea World Florida, USA Ikaika Young male Ikaika has a history of aggression, often of a sexual nature, which began with an attempt to breed a young calf at SeaWorld shortly before his transfer to Canada. SeaWorld’s veterinarians then sedated Ikaika twice daily with Valium to “try to mellow him out.” “We’ve already seen some of the precursors (of a human attack) up there, meaning he’s grabbed boots, he’s grabbed targets, he’s grabbed an arm before,” Chuck Tompkins, a senior executive at SeaWorld and head animal trainer, said in an affidavit. Those are signs Ikaika is testing his environment and seeing what he can do, Tompkins told the court. “And if you’re not aware of all the little things that killer whales do, you can get somebody really, really hurt,” Tompkins said in his affidavit. “I’ve got grave concerns on the safety of the staff and inevitably the safety of the animal because of the lack of change.” Liam Casey, Custody of killer whale plays out in court, Toronto Star, July 16, 2011.
#67 early 2000’s Sea World Florida, USA Tuar While a trainer was retrieving an article from the back of the mouth, young male Tuar clamped down on the trainer’s arm and held tight for several moments. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#68 early 2000’s Sea World Florida, USA Tuar Young male Tuar was involved in one swim over a surfaced trainer during waterwork with another young male, Tekoa. He did respond to a recall after two attempts. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#69 mid 2000’s Sea World Texas, USA Tuar Since his move to Texas in April 2004, young male Tuar has opened his mouth towards trainers on a few occasions while in the water with him. This behaviour seems to present itself when sequences are predictable, and has been during solo waterwork only. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#70 mid 2000’s Port of Nagoya Aquarium, Japan Ku Female Ku lunges at trainer. Video
#71 2001 Kamogawa Sea World, Japan Bingo 19-year-old male Bingo pushed his trainer through and under water during a show. Story on internet sites but no original source known.
#72 2001/08/01 Nanki Shirahama Adventure World, Japan Ran, Goro 13-year-old female Ran and 17-year-old male Goro broke a trainer’s leg during a show. Story on internet sites but no original source known.
#73 2002 Sea World California, USA Ulises 25-year-old male Ulises was doing a waterwork session in “A” pool. His trainer was on his back and wanted him to move closer to the acrylic by giving him the cue to “steer” him in a directional way. Ulises did not know this behaviour. Instead, he took this as a finger roll, the trainer fell off and Ulises began to go on a descent. He ignored the trainer on the porch trying to receive him and turned around to go back towards his trainer in the water. He turned ventral and scooped her up, and then started to become erect. She was able to get off at the porch and reinforce him. He was calm. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#74 2002/07/31 Sea World California, USA Orkid 13-year-old female Orkid was given the opportunity to rehearse pulling a trainer into the water by her bootie (sic!). After placing a foot in Orkid’s mouth several times Orkid pulled the trainer in the water and pulled the bootie off. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#75 2002/08/07 Sea World California, USA Splash, Orkid A female SeaWorld trainer was hospitalized and recovering from a broken arm after an incident at Shamu Stadium on Wednesday. The 28-year-old Tamaree was doing poolside training with 12-year-old male Splash and 13-year-old female Orkid. “She was playing with the whales, talking to them,” said SeaWorld spokeswoman Darla Davis. “The next thing we know, as it appears from the video, she was pulled into the water.” The park has its own video from a pool camera, and it also reviewed a video taken by a visitor who was recording his children nearby. Park officials said the trainer swam out of the water on her own. She was taken to a local hospital, where a pin was put in her arm. Doctors also are monitoring scrapes for possible infection. Shanna McCord, San Diego Union-Tribune, August 8, 2002.
#76 2003 Sea World Texas, USA Kayla 14-year-old female Kayla had refused multiple separations prior to the show opening. She proceeded to perform abnormally high bows on a fast swim cue, came back and received an LRS(* see below), performed another set of bows on the fast swim. She was then asked for a line up, tactile was applied and she lined up with a slight lean. As the trainer backed over the wall, she then came out of the line up towards him with her mouth open. No contact was made. She then performed a head bobbing behaviour and split to the front pool. After several minutes staff attempted control and they were able to separate her to the back pool to continue the show. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#77 2003/08/01 Sea World Texas, USA Kyuquot During a portion of the show, 16-year-old male Kyuquot refused to let a trainer exit the pool. He did not become aggressive, but refused callback tones and slaps, and would not allow the trainer to leave the pool. The trainer was able to get close enough to the glass to pull himself out very quickly, and Kyuquot then proceeded to fast swim around the pool, followed by sliding out at stage. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#78 October 2003 Sea World Texas, USA Kayla After the opening segment of a show, 15-year-old female Kayla refused to separate into the back pool for the ballet. She had been holding under control in the back during the “trainer intro”, began dipping her head under the surface, and then became “big-eyed”. It was decided then not to use her for waterwork during that show. She then refused separations to the back pool in a variety of contexts. During attempts to separate any of the animals for the show, she fluke splashed a trainer, and later motioned her head (mouth open) towards a trainer’s hand. No injury occurred. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#79 2004/05/17 Sea World California, USA Orkid 15-year-old female Orkid bumped a trainer’s thigh. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#80 2004/07/27 Sea World Texas, USA Kyuquot 12-year-old male Kyuquot repeatedly slammed trainer Steve Aibel underwater during a show. Aibel, who was uninjured, had trained Kyuquot for 10 years. Kyuquot refused a rocket hop during a show, then repeated it well. However, Kyuquot then refused to allow the trainer to exit the pool. He then proceeded to swim over the trainer, blocking any exit from the pool for two to three minutes. He refused several callback attempts, including tones, hand slaps, and attempts at control by trainers in various positions around the pool. Once the trainer was close to the middle of the pool, Kyuquot then calmed down, finally drifting close to the stage, where the trainer was able to quickly exit. During the whole incident, Kyuquot never once opened his mouth on the trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010; SeaWorld San Antonio Killer Whale Trainer Has Close Cal, KSAT San Antonio, July 27, 2004; Video.
#81 2004/08/22 Sea World California, USA Ulises 27-year-old male Ulises was doing a Scuba session with his trainer in “A” pool (a spotter Scuba diver was also at the bottom), when he looped around, became erect, and then swam on top of his trainer. He ignored a hand slap and tone before responding to a second tone. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#82 Summer 2004 Sea World Texas, USA Kayla During a night show, 15-year-old female Kayla had performed the first two songs of the show acceptably, and then did two ventral squirt bow cues. She responded well to both LRS (* see below) that occurred, and then received a primary reinforcement for the second LRS. She was then asked for a fluke splash to the back, and then asked to separate to the back pool. During the separation attempt, she lunged at her trainer, although no contact occurred. After several minutes, she separated into the back pool, allowing the show to continue. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#83 2004/10/18 Sea World California, USA Kasatka A trainer was attempting to Scuba dive in “E” pool with 28-year-old female Kasatka and her 3-year-old male calf Nakai. The trainer did not have approval to swim with fins. He may have brushed her with his fins and she became aggressive, mouthing fins and Scuba gear. She eventually responded to a hand slap stage call. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#84 2005/04/01 Sea World Florida, USA Taku A SeaWorld Orlando trainer is expected to return to work soon after being injured by an “overly excited” killer whale, a theme-park spokeswoman said Sunday. 11-year-old male Taku, one of nine at the park that go by the stage name Shamu, swam rapidly past the trainer and circled back, bumping him repeatedly during the Shamu Adventure show at 12:30 p.m. Friday, spokeswoman Becca Bides said. “The trainer maintained control of the animal,” Bides said, and the show continued uninterrupted. The trainer, supervisor Sam Davis, was taken to Sand Lake Hospital for unspecified minor injuries and released the same day, she said.
Additional eyewitness account: “The trainer and Taku were about to slide on the slide out at the end of the show when Taku completly stopped and started “bumping” the trainer. The trainer was male and he finally swam out of the tank. I knew something was wrong because non of the whale except Kalina wanted to perform. Then they finally got Taku out to splash people at the end of the show, when this incident took place.”
Christopher Sherman, Killer whale jolts trainer, Orlando Sentinel, April 4, 2005.
#85 2005/04/14 Sea World California, USA Orkid During a two whale – one trainer interaction, 16-year-old female Orkid initially responded to a stage call but quickly reached back and pulled a trainer by her ankle to the bottom of “A” pool. Orkid responded to the call back tone. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#86 2005/05/06 Sea World California, USA Orkid 16-year-old female Orkid grabbed a trainer’s foot and dunked the trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#87 2006 Sea World California, USA Corky 2 After a good playtime session including waterwork in “A” pool, while sitting at stage with a few trainers next to her, 40-year-old female Corky 2 began to mouth a trainer’s ponytail. She corrected quickly once asked by a trainer on stage to sit “heads up”. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision September 2010
#88 October 2006 Sea World Texas, USA Kayla After performing a sequence in the show, 17-year-old female Kayla was in the stage slide out with her trainer receiving secondary reinforcement. As the trainer attempted to point her back in the water, Kayla lunged at thim with her mouth open, contacting him and throwing him several feet. She immediately came back to control, separated to the back pool perfectly, and was very good behaviourally the rest of the day. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#89 November 2006 Sea World Texas, USA Kayla After performing a med pool separation well, 17-year-old female Kayla was receiving various secondary reinforcers while the gate closed when she pulled away from the wall. She was asked to come back to control, which she did. After a whistle bridge, the trainer went to feed her. Kayla lunged at her, knocking a bucket off the wall. No injury occurred. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#90 2006/11/15 Sea World California, USA Orkid A SeaWorld trainer was injured, when 18-year-old female Orkid grabbed senior trainer Brian Rokeach by the leg, pulled him to the bottom of the pool and held him under water for about 26 seconds. Orkid released Rokeach after Peters repeatedly slapped the water, the signal for the animals to return to the front of the Shamu Stadium stage. Rokeach suffered a torn ankle ligament but was not hospitalized. In response to the incident, SeaWorld increased to five the number of trainers who must be available during live performances and other times when trainers are in the water with the whales. Sea World Animal Profiles; Terry Rodgers, Marine park cited after whale attack, San Diego Union-Tribune, March 4, 2007; Video.
#91 2006/11/29 Sea World California, USA Kasatka 30-year-old female Kasatka attacked Kenneth Peters, SeaWorld San Diego’s most experienced trainer, during a show at Shamu Stadium. Kasatka grabbed the trainer’s foot and dove to the bottom of the 36-foot tank. They surfaced less than a minute later, but she ignored other trainers’ signals to draw her to the side. The orca dove a second time with the trainer for about a minute. Peters only escaped after other trainers worked a large safety net between the two. He suffered puncture wounds and a broken left foot. That’s the second reported attack by Kasatka on Peters. Sea World Animal Profiles; Pauline Repard, Killer whale bites trainer, takes him to tank bottom, San Diego Union-Tribune, November 30, 2006;Killer whale attacks Sea World trainer, CNN, November 30, 2006; Tony Perry, Killer whales endanger park staff, state says, Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2007; OHAS report; 10 News video; Death at SeaWorld.
#92 2007/04/06 Sea World Texas, USA Tuar 7-year-old male Tuar opened and closed his mouth around a trainer’s leg after a dive in prior to the ballet sequence of the show. No injury occurred. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#93 2007/04/10 Sea World California, USA Orkid 18-year-old female Orkid was doing an Artificial Insemination session. She had been a bit vocal but was asked for the roll over behaviour for an ultrasound. The trainer then asked Orkid to perform a slide-out behaviour. She refused this behaviour and then swiped her head making contact with the trainer which resulted in the trainer falling over the wall. She did perform the slide-out behaviour after this. The 35-year-old trainer was taken to a hospital for examination and was found to have suffered minor injuries after the bump from the 5,900-pound whale. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010; KFMB-CBS, San Diego, April 11, 2007.
#94 2007/10/06 Loro Parque Tenerife, Spain Tekoa A trainer at the Loro Parque theme park on Tenerife is in hospital after she was injured this weekend during a training session with 6-year-old male Tekoa at the centre in Puerto de la Cruz. The Canarias 7 newspaper says the incident happened at the pre-show warm up on Saturday, when the orca crashed into the trainer, injuring her right lung and breaking her forearm in two places. She was rescued by two colleagues after the marine mammal dragged her down to the bottom of the pool. The trainer is now said to be stable after surgery on Saturday. Later it becomes know that the injured trainer is 29-year-old biologist Claudia Vollhardt from Germany, who has worked at the park since 2003. OME News write that it was a male orca that hit the trainer and dragged her down after the impact. Then that same animal grabbed the trainer by the arm and brought her back up to the surface. Trainer attacked by killer whale at Loro Parque theme park on Tenerife, Typically Spanish, October 7, 2007.
#95 January 2008 Sea World Florida, USA Takara 16-year-old female Takara hit a trainer with her tail fluke, who was smacked off the slide-out. Video.
#96 2008/03/18 Sea World California, USA Kasatka 32-year-old female Kasatka came out at a trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#97 July 2008 Marineland Antibes, France Valentin Not further detailed incident between 12-year-old male Valentin and trainer Nico, not officially reported. Story on internet sites but no original source known.
#98 2008/09/09 Marineland Antibes, France Freya 27-year-old female Freya pushed a trainer through and under water (not as part of the training or show). Video.
#99 2008/09/10 Sea World California, USA Kasatka 32-year-old female Kasatka came out at a trainer. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#100 Spring 2009 Loro Parque Tenerife, Spain Skyla In the spring of 2009, during a public show, 5-year-old female Skyla started pushing her trainer around the pool and up against the pool wall. Shortly thereafter, special protocols (limits on water work and a mandate that only senior trainers work with her) that had been standard practice for Tekoa after the incident in 2007 were enacted for Skyla as well. Tim Zimmermann, Blood in the Water, Outside Magazine, July 18, 2011.
#101 2009/07/17 Marineland Antibes, France Wikie 8-year-old female Wikie pushed a trainer through and under water (not as part of the training or show). Eyewitness account on internet site.
#102 September 2009 Loro Parque Tenerife, Spain Keto Not further detailed incident between 14-year-old male Keto and trainer Brian Rokeach, noted by fellow trainer Alexis Martinez. Tim Zimmermann, Blood in the Water, Outside Magazine, July 18, 2011.
#103 2009/12/24 Loro Parque Tenerife, Spain Keto A Loro Parque trainer has been killed by one of the whales during a training session. The trainer was 29-year-old Alexis Martínez, and the accident occurred at 10.30 am this morning during the first training session for the Christmas Special planned for the New Year. The other 7 trainers were also present in the training session. As far as can be determined right now, Alexis was hit by 14-year-old male killer whale Keto, and his death was caused by drowning because he was under the water unconscious for several minutes before he could be rescued. The autopsy report on Martínez was telling and states bluntly that his was a “violent death.” It describes multiple cuts and bruises, the collapse of both lungs, fractures of the ribs and sternum, a lacerated liver, severely damaged vital organs, and puncture marks “consistent with the teeth of an orca.” It concludes that the immediate cause of death was fluid in the lungs (i.e., drowning) but that the fundamental cause was “mechanical asphyxiation due to compression and crushing of the thoracic abdomen with injuries to the vital organs.” In other words, at some point Keto probably slammed into Martínez with such force that he caved in his chest. Trainer dies in accident at Killer Whale park in Tenerife, Typically Spanish, December 24, 2009;Tim Zimmermann, Blood in the Water, Outside Magazine, July 18, 2011.
#104 2010 Sea World California, USA Orkid 21-year-old female Orkid has been sliding out in various slide-out areas on her free time which has resulted in possibly dangerous scenarios for guests at the Dine with Shamu area. Changes are (were?) being made to the areas to help decrease the frequency of this behaviour in areas where person might be injured. Sea World Animal Profiles, Revision June 2010
#105 2010/02/24 Sea World Florida, USA Tilikum A veteran animal trainer whose dream was to work at SeaWorld Florida was killed Wednesday when one of the show’s killer whales dragged her underwater. SeaWorld said that 29-year-old male Tilikum pulled Dawn Brancheau, 40, into the orca’s tank about 2pm. Witnesses told that the animal suddenly grabbed Brancheau by the upper arm, tossed her around in his mouth and pulled her beneath the water as dozens of tourists looked on in horror. The coroner catalogued a fractured neck, a broken jaw, and a dislocated elbow and knee. Sea World Animal Profiles; Jason Garcia and Susan Jacobsen, Animal trainer killed at Sea World, Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2010;Tim Zimmermann, The Killer in the Pool, Outside Magazine, July 30, 2010.
#106 July 2012 Six Flags Vallejo, USA Shouka 9-year-old female Shouka repeatedly lunged at a trainer. Without Me There Is No You (Blog incl. video)

Here’s a little analysis regarding the killer whales which were involved in the incidents. It is telling that there are only very few incidents where the killer whale involved was still with its mother.
To eliminate undesired behavior, SeaWorld trainers have developed a training technique called the Least Reinforcing Scenario (LRS). The LRS follows an undesired behavior. If a trainer requests a particular behavior and the animal responds with inappropriate behavior, the trainer must be careful not to reinforce the response. The trainer delivers an LRS – they stand still and do nothing. This way, they are least likely to deliver a reinforcer.
(in Animal Training at SeaWorld & Busch Gardens, Application of Philosophy: Training Techniques)
Marine mammal veterinarian Jay Sweeney:
“Aggression expressed by killer whales toward their trainers is a matter of grave concern. Show situations involving water behaviors with trainers and orcas have become popular in recent years. Aggressive manifestations toward trainers have included bumping, biting, grabbing, dunking, and holding trainers on the bottom of pools preventing their escape. Several situations have resulted in potentially life-threatening incidents. In a few such cases, we can attribute this behavior to disease or to the presence of frustrating or confusing situations, but in other cases, there have been no clear casual factors.”
(in Marine Mammal Behavioral Diagnostics, L. Dierauf (Ed.). 1990. Handbook of Marine Mammal Medicine, pp. 53-72.)
OSHA report on the Kasatka incident in November 2006:
“The contributing factors to the accident, in the simplest of terms, is that swimming with captive orcas is inherently dangerous and if someone hasn’t been killed already it is only a matter of time before it does happen. The trainers recognize this risk and train not for if an attack will happen but when.”
(in Occupational Health and Safety report, March 2, 2007)
SeaWorld response to OSHA report:
“‘We have proven over 40 years that we are very safe,’ said Mike Scarpuzzi, vice president of zoological operations at SeaWorld San Diego and a former whale trainer.”
(in Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2007; under pressure from SeaWorld the OHAS report was rewritten and the harsh critique all but eliminated)
Note: it seems quite obvious that keeping the top predator of our oceans in captivity was and always will be a dangerous business for all involved. Especially for the animals…

Back to Orcas in Captivity

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SeaWorld Responds to Release of Video Showing Killer Whale Attack – New Update!

More ‘double think’ from SeaWorld…Peters did not run with a broken foot because he was unafraid and calm, he clearly ran because he was fearful – who wouldn’t be?

SeaWorld representative Thad Lacinak remarks in the video that if the whale wanted to kill Peters, she would have, but as a former SeaWorld trainer remarked to me – Lacinak’s remark implies that SeaWorld must then admit that two of their whales intended to kill the trainers who died in their tanks, and stop trying to blame the deaths on trainer error.

Any whale, at any time, is capable of choosing to toy with the trainers or worse – and it is time for SeaWorld to abandon their efforts to force the trainers back into the water in these dangerous conditions.
Please go to Voice of the Orcas for more information on captive killer whale issues.
UPDATE:  SEAWORLD HAS MORE TO SAY.  (Some corrections to the comments by SeaWorld in the following video – a one year old killer whale is a baby, fully dependent upon their moms. The whales don’t like to separate, they are forced to if they want to eat.  Comparing an attack by a captive whale to great white shark attacks in Australia? OSHA is “silly”?  I’m speechless.)

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

Tune in to Hear ‘Death at SeaWorld’ Author David Kirby and Former SeaWorld Trainer John Jett Discuss the Future of the Shamu Show

Second update – Thanks to The Orca Project for sending this link, you can now replay the show at any time.
Update: This was a very interesting discussion that covers the important points of the issue, and brings up the possibility of retiring Tilikum (the whale involved in trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death) to a sea pen in Iceland. Rebroadcasts Wednesday Feb 1st at 6:30 p.m. EST & Saturday Feb 4th at 7:30 a.m. EST (3:30 pm Weds Pacific Time, 4:30 a.m. Saturday Pacific time)
Author David Kirby and former trainer John Jett, PhD will be joined by a professor of ethics in a live discussion on WMFE, Orlando’s public radio station in ” Are we seeing SeaWorld moving ahead without Shamu?
The 30-minute segment will air Tuesday, January 31st, at 9:30 AM eastern (6:30 AM Pacific), and repeat on Wed and Sat – hopefully at more humane times for those of us on the west coast (check www.wmfe.org for times).  It reaches all of Central Florida and streams in real time online.
As SeaWorld struggles to reinvent the nature of its shows following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, the question that looms large in people’s minds is whether or not the Orlando amusement park will be allowed to have trainers in the water with killer whales in the future. 
A judge’s decision regarding the legal battle over OSHA’s (Occupational Safety and Health Agency) ruling on trainer safety may be made public in the coming months – yet common sense has really already dictated that trainers should stay out of the water (find complete information here).
SeaWorld is a corporation, run by people good at running a business, so their bottom line is revenue – but beyond that, they are not monsters and don’t want to see their employees hurt, dismembered or killed either.  One problem has been that much of what goes on with the trainers never sees the light of day let alone makes it to the desks of the executives because in the past the trainers were actively discouraged from reporting injuries etc in their daily logs (Jett and several other trainers provide information on their website,  Voice of the Orcas).
Most likely, the upper management of SeaWorld’s parent company, the Blackstone Group, was not aware of the problems in the past, though will certainly shoulder the burden of responsibility in the future if they choose to continue to put people in harms way for financial gain.
Meanwhile, even though SeaWorld declined to send a representative to be on the show, it looks like they are moving in new and fresh directions, and if it makes enough money maybe they will abandon the practice of keeping whales in captivity altogether and show us how orcas and other marine mammals exist in the wild (the first is Turtle Trek, soon to be followed by similar Antarctic and fresh water exhibits):

Coming in 2012, guests will first visit two massive naturalistic habitats, one filled with hundreds of freshwater fish and gentle manatees, the other home to more than 1,500 saltwater fish and more than a dozen sea turtles. Many of the manatees and sea turtles were rescued by the park’s animal team or were born at SeaWorld.
Moving on from the habitat, guests enter a domed theater, and what happens next has never before been seen and is a first at any theme park in the world.
Coming to life in front of the guests is a first-of-its-kind 3-D/360-degree dome theater film that is completely immersive. The dome allows a hyper-realistic 3-D movie to be shown all around guests and even above them – not just in front them or on only one screen. It’s this unique and immersive way of showcasing a sea turtle’s epic and astounding journey that is the heart of TurtleTrek. And for the first time, SeaWorld guests are given a turtle’s eye view of the ocean’s wonders. (SeaWorld)

SeaWorld Thinks Trainer’s Death Irrelevant, Tries to Have Case Dismissed

Jim Atchison, President and C.E.O. of SeaWorld

According to this news report, SeaWorld tried to get the case against them dismissed yesterday on the grounds that Dawn Brancheau (the trainer who was attacked and killed by the killer whale Tilikum last year) died moments after the show was officially over:

But in a shocking move this morning, SeaWorld attorneys asked the Judge not to consider her death in his ruling, because it happened at the conclusion of a “Dine with Shamu” show. Attorney Carla Gunnin said even though there was still a crowd, “the announcer had already told them the show was over.”
Brancheau’s widower Scott, who has been in the courtroom for all the proceedings, was visibly upset at the notion. The timing of the death is important, because OSHA’s citation only deals with trainers interaction with whales during shows.

Laughably, SeaWorld then trotted out lead trainer Jenny Mairot, who said that Tilikum (known to have killed three people) is “the most congenial, easy-going, predictable whale” she had ever worked with.
Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel reports that:

[Kelly Flaherty Clark, SeaWorld Orlando’s curator of animal training] testified that Tilikum had never before exhibited any behavior in which he attempted to grab or pull anyone and that the whale had been “desensitized,” or conditioned not to react, to trainers’ ponytails. (SeaWorld says Tilikum pulled Brancheau into his pool by her long ponytail, though OSHA has argued she was actually grabbed by her arm.)
Black pointed out that SeaWorld had seen other whales grab at trainers, such as in a 1999 incident in which a whale pulled a trainer into the water by her dangling sweatshirt. The incident prompted SeaWorld Orlando to require all trainers to be wearing only their wetsuits when working with the whales.
Black also argued that the only way SeaWorld “knew” Tilikum was desensitized to hair was the fact that it repeatedly exposed trainers’ hair to him and that he hadn’t yet grabbed it.

If SeaWorld is confident that their whales are desensitized to ponytails, why did three trainers Including Jenny Mairot have theirs cut off following Dawn’s death?
These trainers no doubt miss their colleague who died, and generously donated their hair to support the Dawn Brancheau Foundation – still, SeaWorld reportedly has made it a requirement that long hair must be in a bun or otherwise contained.
It is a tacit acknowledgement on SeaWorld’s part that they can’t guarantee the safety of their trainers, because they have now had to eliminate all clothing other than wet suits on their trainers, and now have eliminated ponytails on the trainers as well.
What is next?
Or rather, who is next?

SeaWorld’s Training Methods; Why Trainer Injuries Are Inevitable

Imagine yourself in a walled enclosure, alone, frightened and confused.  You don’t really understand how you got there, and never in your life have you been away from your family.  There is nothing to do, just the featureless walls of the pool, and no way out.  Eventually some strange being throws you a big mac, fries and a coke because that is what they think you eat.  They stare at you, their mouths move and make weird sounds which have no meaning, and everyday is the same at first.  Then they come with the big mac, but won’t give it to you.  You wait.  You get frustrated, you run around, and finally you try to jump up and get the food, when a whistle sounds and the being throws the big mac down to you.
After a time or two you figure out that you have to jump, the whistle blows and your dinner comes…except then the beings only give you a bite, and you have to work harder to get the rest.  Then you have to do a jump, run to the left, another jump, run to the right to get your bite of food.
Eventually you learn to stick your arm out so they can take your blood, then you have to let these beings ride you around.
But you are smart, it gives you something to do for at least part of the day, and for the most part the beings don’t hurt you.  But neither do they understand your needs or your moods, and not all the beings do things the way you are used to and it is confusing.
In essence, that is the process that whales and dolphins go through when they are trained. There is a whole science behind the method, and in order to be a good trainer you must have a skill set that is completely irrelevant to whether or not you are able to swim, dive, and perform in the water shows.

Courtesy InsideFlorida.com

What is very important to understand is this: the ‘trainers’ you see swimming with the whales and pirouetting around the pool perimeter only need to be able to comprehend the basic principles of training; they are performers and athletes, as are the whales.  Both the whales and humans are trained to work together to amuse the public and to make money for SeaWorld, but  there is no guarantee that either has the ability to interpret the nuances of behavior required to keep the humans safe.
To complicate the situation, when animals are trained it is inevitable that all kinds of behavioral patterns are acquired that were not intended, for instance one whale might think he is supposed to make sounds while doing the trick, while another one doesn’t.  If a trainer doesn’t notice or care, what you really have is two different tricks.
On the other hand, one whale might decide that the precise angle of a trainer’s arm is important, and if another trainer doesn’t do it exactly the same, or if any trainer changes day to day, it can confuse the whale.  Enough of that, and the animal can become frustrated and refuse to perform.  And a frustrated animal is a dangerous animal, no matter how kind they are.
An example that is more familiar to most of us is that of horses – many elite riders know nothing about daily horse care, and have no clue how to train horses.  They are gifted, trained athletes – yet they can get into serious trouble if their horse is in pain, frightened or out of control.  Even the most famous horse trainers, such as John Lyons, will not get on a horse that is signalling that the horse is not in a good mental state.  It is just too dangerous, and one of the first things horse owners are taught these days is how to “read” the horse’s body language, and when to walk away or risk a wreck.
But when it comes to whales, “reading” their body language is tricky, and next to impossible if you are in the water with the commotion of the shows.  So trainers rely on other trainers and ‘spotters’ to let them know how things are progressing, but even that is a judgement call and the trainers are under enormous pressure to complete their performances.
There is too much that can go wrong, too much that each trainer doesn’t know about previous events that might set a whale off – for instance, maybe a trainer accidentally slipped and covered a whale’s blowhole when they surfaced in an earlier show…this may be enough to make the whale resist doing that trick in the next show, and get ticked off if he is forced.

Alex Martinez was killed by another of SeaWorld's Whales two months before Dawn Brancheau.

The whales also get upset if they feel they have performed correctly and are not rewarded, so if they tilt a bit in practice with no trainer aboard and it gets rewarded, but that same tilt causes the trainer to fall off later and the whale is not rewarded, this is confusing and frustrating to the whale.  Many people believe that this what caused a killer whale belonging to SeaWorld but living in Loro Parque, Spain, to turn on his trainer and kill him just two months before Dawn Brancheau was killed at SeaWorld, Orlando.
(See Blood in the Water).
It is very easy for trainers to fall into the trap of believing that because they love the whales, the whales love them back.  Maybe so, maybe some whales, maybe some whales for some people, or maybe not at all.  Killer whales are benign in the wild, but unpredictable in captivity, and their attempts to communicate or discipline trainers can be deadly, no matter what feelings we have for them, or they for us.
As long as these whales are kept in unnatural situations without stable companions of their own species, people are going to get hurt, whether by accident or on purpose.

Want to be a Whale Trainer? What Your Life is Worth, Part One.

Size comparison

See OSHA Goes After SeaWorld for background information and trial updates.
As the day grows closer for SeaWorld’s continued court case against the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), which found them guilty of negligence in the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau last year, several ex- SeaWorld employees have stepped forward to share their experiences. Although they are willing to have their names revealed, it isn’t relevant for the point of this article and in no way do I wish to create problems for them, so the final decision was to keep the sources anonymous for the time being.
As these former trainers relayed their experiences, I found my stomach turning at the thought of the danger that faced them daily, the low wages, and the lack of benefits that they accrued. Worse yet are the stories of how SeaWorld covered up injuries.  Killer whales are huge animals, so any mistake made by the whale or trainer in which the timing is off for a stunt can result in serious injury, and that is if the whale is cooperating – if they are not, it can get worse, and quickly.
Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum

So how much do the trainers get paid? When you consider that these people are elite athletes, required to free dive to a depth of 30-40 feet and to stay trim and fit, that they must be confident in their ability to communicate with the whales and to know how extricate themselves from danger, you would assume that they made a lot of money, like most other professional athletes.
Not so.  Not even close.
Senior trainer pay (after five years of service) at Shamu Stadium for trainers that were employed as of February 1st is only $23 an hour in Texas and $26 in California. For new hires with years of experience, that pay will not apply and they will only get $18 per hour in Texas, $21 per hour in California. The highest pay grade, Senior 1, is $26-$27 an hour in Texas and $29-$30 in California (and $5 per hour less for new hires).
The trainers have no union. SeaWorld has managed to keep their trainers from organizing.
No job security. What happens when they get too old, too injured, gain or lose too much weight?  What about pregnancy and parental leave?
The job seems glamorous and attracts young people at an age when they are not too concerned about their future, yet within a few years they may become parents, realize that they are risking their lives for low wages, and decide to move on…to what?
How safe are trainers even out of the water?  Dawn’s death, in which she was dragged into the water by the killer whale Tilikum, shows that trainers are never really safe when they are within reach.  This video shows a dangerous encounter that could have had a similar outcome:

Next: What the job really entails