Tag Archives: trainer

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?

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 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

SeaWorld Thinks Trainers Won’t Get Hurt? Just Watch This… (Sunday Wish It Was Funny Category)

SeaWorld is still trying to convince the government that the amusement park can keep their workers safe in these conditions, good luck with that:

Maybe they have a plan to drug the whales, or give them lobotomies…the recent video below of Tilikum (the whale who killed several people) is reminiscent of the fate that befell the rebellious Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” when he crossed the wrong person and wound up with a lobotomy. Tilikum is actually probably just bored into this mind-numbing repetitious, neurotic behavior.

And by the way, you might wait to buy stock in SeaWorld when they go public soon -after the next trainer injury the value will plummet and you will be able to pick it up for pennies on the dollar.

Former SeaWorld trainer to share insights

Former SeaWorld trainer, Samantha Berg

Former SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg plans to discuss orcas from a trainer’s perspective in what promises to be an interesting and entertaining broadcast of the Sam Simon show this Friday.
She intends to discuss the living conditions of the whales, the true nature of the job, and the dichotomy between the trainer’s professed love for the orcas versus how inhumanely the  whales are kept.
Of course it is live radio, so anything can happen – and if you miss the live show you can hear a repeat at 6:10 pm, or check sites such as Voice of the Orcas which may have recordings that you can hear at a later date.
You can listen to her interview  here, 3:10 pm Pacific time on Friday, 6/8/12, or again at 6:10 pm.

Former SeaWorld Trainers Launch Interactive Website

Carol Ray

Jeff Ventre

There often comes a time when we have to make the tough choice between staying and going; when we realize that our dreams have taken a sudden shift, or when life circumstances change out from underneath us – we find ourselves giving up careers to stay home with the kids, passing up job promotions, downsizing our homes, going back to school, or leaving unhealthy relationships.
It was no different for each of these four former SeaWorld trainers. Each one reached a point where they could no longer justify being part of an industry that cloaked mistreatment of animals behind the guise of entertainment. Each one chose to leave.
Samantha Berg

John Jett

They went on to establish themselves in new careers, yet none could shake the feeling that  something needed to be done to help the whales they left behind. And one by one, they began to speak out.
And to speak for the whales.
Now they have launched Voice of the Orcas,  a thoughtful website that presents videos, taped interviews, photos, testimonials, research papers and more. Their website shines a laser on what happens to whales in captivity below the surface of the glitzy shows.

The captive orcas now have a voice, and it is a compelling one.

SeaWorld Continues To Blame The Victims, Including A Ten Year Old Child

It was bad enough that SeaWorld put the drowned trainer Dawn Brancheau in mortal danger by having her interact unprotected with a dangerous killer whale, but the way the amusement park continues to handle the situation is disgusting. As people come forward with information or make allegations against them, SeaWorld retaliates with personal attacks – which might be an accepted legal process, but blaming the victims just makes SeaWorld look like bullies who care more about their pocketbooks than they do about their employees. And now they are going after the family of a 10 year old boy who was traumatized by witnessing the trainer’s death.

Connell/AP Picture still from video provided by Todd Connell shows trainer Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum before Brancheau’s tragic death.

First there were the questions about what the trainer might have done to set the animal off; Did she follow protocol? Was she careless? Whose fault is it that her hair was in reach? These are important questions of course – everyone wants to know what really happened – but the way the questions were asked made it seem that SeaWorld was looking to blame the trainer.
Then SeaWorld fired an employee, Linda Simmons, who says she was prevented from fully coopering with the federal investigation that was conducted by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). According to Simmons in an ABC news interview, “… everyone who came to work at Sea World was given what she called the “Tili talk” — a warning about the killer whale [Tilicum] that had killed a Canadian trainer in 1991 and a man who sneaked into his holding area in 1999.
“They talk to you about going into the water with Tili,” she said. “That if you go into the water with Tili you would come out as a corpse.”
SeaWorld’s response? “Sea World released a statement blasting Simons’ accusations and saying she “used the threat of negative publicity to seek a sizable monetary payment from SeaWorld in exchange for her not going public with these false allegations.”
SeaWorld’s response to the OSHA investigation? “The company on Monday blasted OSHA’s conclusions, saying they are “unsupported by any evidence or precedent and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care.”
SeaWorld’s response to the distraught family of the deceased trainer who are now contemplating a lawsuit? SeaWorld implies that the family is somehow ungrateful because SeaWorld…”continues to work with family members on a charitable fund organized in honor of Dawn Brancheau, providing office space and administrative support for a nephew of Brancheau’s who is overseeing the fund.
“We have done everything in our power to support Scott Brancheau and other members of Dawn’s family throughout this difficult time,” SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs said.
But in a whole new low, SeaWorld is accusing the family of a traumatized boy of frivolous greed.

Todd and Suzanne Connell, who took their son Bobby to Florida in February to celebrate his 10th birthday, say the boy looked straight into Dawn Brancheau’s eyes as the doomed trainer briefly freed herself from the orca’s jaws.

Bobby Connell “saw the look of horror and desperation on Dawn’s face as she was swimming for her life,” the complaint reads.
“He then saw Tilikum violently yank her down again to the depths of the pool.”
The boy, who became hysterical as Brancheau’s broken body was dragged around the tank, has been plagued by gruesome nightmares ever since, the family says.
…They also say SeaWorld managers were rude and dismissive when they brought their crying child to the guest services area.
“SeaWorld has got to understand that there has got to be a result to their actions,” (attorney) Overchuck said. “It might not seem like a big deal to them that this 10-year-old has nightmares, but it’s a big deal to his mom.”
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/2010/08/26/2010-08-26_family_sues_seaworld.html#ixzz0xv6MpGv8)
SeaWorld’s response? They claim that the boy’s family tried to blackmail them: …”that a different attorney called the theme park earlier this year and threatened that they would take their story to “The Oprah Winfrey Show” if the theme park didn’t pay them $5,000.” (A story the boy’s family denies). (http://www.wesh.com/r/24783579/detail.html
In the midst of all this, SeaWorld is desperately trying to repackage itself as an educational facility. If what they want to teach us is that SeaWorld is a cold, uncaring corporation that endangers its employees, blames victims for their misfortune, and keeps large animals in inhumane conditions, they have succeeded.