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:
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). (
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.

More Bad News For SeaWorld: Drowned Trainer’s Family May Sue

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Scott Brancheau has hired a team of wrongful death attorneys and will likely sue SeaWorld, holding them responsible for the drowning death by a killer whale of his late wife, Dawn Brancheau.

L-pc25 (“Lolita”) photo by Peter Pijpelink – October 30, 2007

In February, when the killer whale “Tilicum” got hold of the trainer (the current belief is that the trainer’s pony tail drifted into the whale’s mouth as she worked with him from the pool’s ledge, which he then grabbed, pulling her into the water) the news shocked us all – for decades the amusement park industry has been lucky – most attacks on trainers are not fatal and seldom occur in front of the public. Overwhelmed by grief and no doubt feeling shell-shocked, the family was at first supportive of SeaWorld, and at a time of loss few people want to take on a lawsuit. And suing a corporation with as much influence and with as deep pockets as SeaWorld would be a herculean task.

Safety standards allowed this driver to walk away from a crash. (Tulsa World)

But now, given the ruling by the government’s department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) charging SeaWorld with serious and willful violations, the distraught family may have been handed the stone they need to take on SeaWorld in this matter. OSHA is the agency that makes sure that workers everywhere have optimum working conditions – they are the reason that you can go to work and know that there are working fire escapes, sprinkler systems, the air is clean, and you are provided with safe tools and protective gear if your job requires them. Whale trainers deserve the same benefits, and it is high time that the amusement parks are forced to provide safe conditions – and no longer be able to get away with statements such as ‘working with whales is inherently dangerous’. Latent danger lurks in many occupations, but safety precautions are always required, think about this next time you see a race car or hydroplane driver walk away from a horrifying wreck.

The amusement parks will argue that you can’t take humane care of whales in captivity without close contact, particularly the lonely and isolated ones such as “Lolita”, living in the Miami Seaquarium. This is probably true.

But then again, whales don’t belong in small tanks isolated from their families, there is nothing humane about that.

Seaworld Is Fined For Safety Violations Related To Trainer’s Death: What It Means For Captive Orca “Lolita”

On the face of it, Seaworld’s fine related to the death of Dawn Brancheau by one of their captive orcas, Tillicum, seems like a meaningless slap on the wrist. $75,000 is not much money to them, and because Seaworld was investigated by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), they were fined for safety violations only, and no mention was made of the treatment of the orca whale “Tillicum” which is at the root of this unfortunate event.

The tank where an L-pod member (“Lolita”) is confined. Photo by Peter Pijpelink.

Even so, Seaworld is going to fight the government on this finding, which will doubtless cost them more than the fines. Why? Because the consequences of that finding are going to roll through the amusement park industry, affecting all the parks which display marine mammals like circus animals – and the Miami Seaquarium, where one of the Southern Resident orcas “Lolita” lives, will have to make substantial and costly improvements to her illegal and substandard conditions.

What OSHA found is that Seaworld has to do a better job of keeping their trainers safe, and by extension, so will the Miami Seaquarium. (The ruling came despite political pressure by Florida U.S. Representative Alan Grayson, who admittedly intervened in OSHA’s investigation, as he states in a press release: “As everyone knows, working with sharks and whales is inherently dangerous. But SeaWorld has done what it could to make that work as safe as possible,”… “Beyond that, SeaWorld has raised people’s knowledge and understanding of cetaceans enormously, and contributed greatly to the well-being of Central Florida and our community.”)

Endangered for our amusement (Creative Commons Photo)

Seaworld was fined $5000 for not having a stair railing (a potential 10′ fall for employees) on the “Believe” stage in Shamu Stadium, a violation ranked as ‘serious’ – but the real heart of the finding is in the $70,000 “Willful” violation:

a) “At the Shamu Stadium pools, animal trainers working with Tilikum, a killer whale with known aggressive tendencies and who was involved in the 1991 death of a whale trainer at a marine park in Vancouver, British Columbia, were exposed to struck-by and drowning hazards in that they were allowed unprotected contact with Tilikum while conducting “drywork”performances on pool ledges, slideouts and platforms, on or about 2/24/2010.”

and – relevant to all marine amusement parks, including the Miami Seaquarium:

b) “At the Shamu Stadium pools, animal trainers working with killer whales other than Tilicum, were exposed to struck-by and drowning hazards in that they were allowed to engage in “waterwork” and “drywork” performances with the killer whales without adequate protection, on or about 2/24/2010. “

OSHA defines ‘adequate protection’ as a physical barrier, or any other engineering solution that gives the trainers the same level of protection as a physical barrier – in effect putting an end to whale shows that involve humans swimming with whales. It will also inhibit the amusement parks from being able to endanger the trainers working at the edge of the pools – no more holding fish out for whales to jump up and grab, etc.

That means that, lacking the carnival appeal of human mastery over big animals, the amusement parks such as Seaworld and Miami Seaquarium are going to have put their money where there mouths are and present true educational shows – and any educational show will only underscore that the whales in their care have dismal lives, nothing like the wild animals they represent.

Seaworld and Miami Seaquarium can see the writing on the wall, so they will fight tooth and nail to be allowed to endanger human lives and maintain their circus acts. For many of the whales born in captivity, the options are few and the best that we can hope for is that the amusement parks redirect their focus and enhance the quality of life for those magnificent and intelligent whales.

But the L-pod whale they call Lolita has a home in the wild, we know her family, and her mother still swims by our boats and the shores of Washington. Lolita can come home to her family, with our help.

Even Seaworld’s blog on the subject has this comment:

I have visited Sea World Orlando many times and always found the Shamu shows to be very entertaining.

This past week, however, I had the amazing opportunity to watch many (20) members of the resident Orca pods in the San Juan Islands north of Seattle, WA. These resident orca travel up to 100 miles per day in search of salmon. For more than 30 minutes, our boat drifted with the travelling orcas as they searched for King Salmon (their only food source). It must be noted our boat always stayed at least 100-400 yards away in order to respect the natural movement of these beautiful animals.

After watching these magnificent creatures in the wild, I cannot help but feel my opinion on keeping orcas captive for our enjoyment has changed. Research can easily be done on these animals in the wild (they are easy to find). Any pretense of keeping them captive for scientific reasons now seems to be purely a cover for the true purpose of making $$$$.

As a lifeling, but newly-educated, fan of “Shamu” I can no longer in good conscience frequent Sea World. There was once a time for captive Orca research and entertainment, but that time has passed. For now, I will really miss the great roller coasters and other exhibits.

Submitted by Jim on Tue, 2010-08-24 00:19.

“Lolita the Whale”, taken from the Southern Resident Killer Whale clan

Contact: Orca Network and Save Lolita.
More information: OSHA ruling, U. S. Rep Grayson’s actions

The Washington State Senate Race: When It Comes To The Orcas And Salmon, Senator Murray Wins.

When it comes to getting the politicians to say anything substantial about the really tough salmon issues, it is next to impossible to get much more than a stock version of “Thank you for bringing to our attention your concerns on this issue”, but at least Senator Patty Murray has a track record that shows she cares about both salmon and the larger marine environment. Dino Rossi, on the other hand, seems to think environmental issues are not important to the residents of the Evergreen State. has created this video which discusses the need to restore wild salmon, for us and for the orcas:

Although Senator Murray has not taken a strong position on the question of dams and salmon restoration, she has proven herself to be supportive of general environmental issues associated with salmon ecology:

From Senator Murray’s website:

Senator Murray has championed efforts to protect Washington’s unique open spaces. She has worked tirelessly to protect the Hanford Reach, the last wild stretch of the Columbia River and a critical salmon habitat, and is proud that, with her leadership, it now a National Monument. Senator Murray has also secured funding for the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center.
Recovering salmon is a challenge that is not limited to only one part of the state or one group of people. Senator Murray has worked to ensure that all of the stakeholders involved in this issue work together to implement a cooperative, comprehensive, statewide effort to recover wild salmon and she has continued to secure the funding needed to support these efforts. Each year, Senator Murray leads the effort to secure funding for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. In FY09, Senator Murray secured $80 million in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill for salmon recovery projects along the Pacific Coast.
Senator Murray reached across party lines to work with Congressman Jack Metcalf to create the Northwest Straits Commission in 1998. This effort has helped address the decline of the state’s northwest marine ecosystems by bringing representatives from county, tribal, state and federal governments, non-profit organizations and volunteers together to protect and restore marine resources in northern Puget Sound. Senator Murray has consistently secured funding for the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative, with $1.6 million in FY09. Senator Murray also recently introduced legislation to reauthorize the Initiative.
News Releases
NORTHWEST STRAITS: Murray Provides Critical Investment to Protect and Conserve Marine Habitat in Northwest Straits
July 21, 2010
(Washington D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced that she included $1.8 million for the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative in the Fiscal Year 2011 Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill that was approved today by the Appropriations Committee. The funding will help protect and restore marine waters, habitats and species at priority sites along the Northwest Straits, which run through Clallam, Island, Jefferson, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties.
“The Northwest Straits Initiative continues to be a leading example of a successful, innovative, and grassroots conservation effort,” said Senator Patty Murray. “This investment will allow the group to continue their excellent research and expand upon their work restoring and conserving our marine environment.”

As far as the Rossi champagn is concerned, the information that I was able to find on salmon, marine quality, or anything remotely related to the environment from the Dino Rossi campaign website is negligible:
“……………………………………………”. As in nothing, nada, zip – the environment is not even an issue to Rossi as far as I can tell, unless his beliefs are reflected in these two tepid, limp sentences:

# Enhance safety procedures for any energy exploration, whether on land or off shore.
# Ensure polluters pay for any environmental degradation.

It sounds like Rossi would like to see more oil exploration – only make it safer (how?), and also he would wring money out of polluters (who?), but has no plan to restore the environment to health. Fining polluters is all well and good, but once the damage is done it can take generations to undo – generations of people who are willing to work on the problems and to force companies to comply with preventive measures.

From Black And White to Technicolor: Orca Whales Appear To Glow In The Dark When Viewed With An Infrared Camera

This summer a group of scientists from the University of Washington’s Department of Applied Physics installed infrared cameras on the lighthouse at San Juan Island’s whale watch park, in order to obtain video of orcas passing by at night. The results are amazing to see – the whales appear in surreal color as they surface in unison, the familiar black and white bodies now appear in stunning technicolor:

This longer version shows more of the orcas as they pass by, and the “blows” (the whale’s breath as it exhales) are more easily seen:

To get this type of imaging scientists use equipment that can detect very small differences in temperature, employing technology that interprets a part of the light spectrum that our eyes can’t see; the infrared bandwidth (but we can feel infrared energy in the form of heat). The heat that is given off by animals is the same kind of energy as is given off by the sun, which we perceive as both heat and light. We just aren’t equipped to see the infrared part of the spectrum.

The following photo is from Infrared Detection of Marine Mammals:

IR thermograph of the fluke of a bottlenose dolphin. (SR-443)

IR thermograph of the fluke of a bottlenose dolphin. Warm areas (denoted by white and red) correspond to large blood vessels that traverse the width of the underside of the fluke. Note the comparatively cool peduncle area shown in blue. The colour bar at the bottom denotes 0.1 °C differences in surface temperature per gradation.

When conditions are right, the whales’ breath shows up clearly against the cooler air temperature, but because their bodies are so well insulated their skin is not a whole lot warmer than the surrounding water, and the process of showing the whales’ form with infrared is more challenging. To get around that problem, scientists have sensors that multiply the image (equivalent to night vision scopes), and they also have devices that emit infrared – much the way a TV remote works.

This technology is being applied to marine mammal censusing in many parts of the world, and there is hope that it will reduce ship strikes of whales at sea. It seems a benign and non-invasive way to explore the marine environment, a welcome change from the ever increasing reliance of loud sonar that is very harmful to whales and dolphins.

Its Official, A New Baby For L-Pod Of The Southern Resident Orca Whales!

“After an encounter with L pod on the August 13th, the Center was able to confirm that the calf belongs to L47. This is the 7th known calf born to L47. Two of those calves are still alive, L83 and L91. L47 is also a grandmother to L83’s calf L110.”

The new calf looks robust. (Photo by Ken Balcomb)
Notice the mouthful of water! (Photo by Ken Balcomb)
Although approximately 7 – 9 feet in length, newborn calves look tiny next to their moms. (Photo by Ken Balcomb).

Why Is Seaworld Interested In The Young Orca That Stranded In Dutch Waters?

Separated from her pod, thin, and possibly sick, a young orca was spotted swimming in the shallow Wedden Sea in the Netherlands in June. The Dutch marine mammal rescue group “SOS Dolfijn” captured the little whale and transported her to the Dolphinarium in Harderwijk, Netherlands.
Obviously thin, malnourished, and distressed, there is no doubt that this was the humane thing to do for her, and the original statements from the Dolphinarium were clear in their expressed goal to rehabilitate and release the whale once she was healthy and her family could be located.
Now the Dolphinarium seems to be waffling on when and if they will release the orca, and what the other options are for her.

Here is the original story, posted the day after her capture:

Young orca caught in Wadden Sea
Thursday 24 June 2010
A 3.5 metre-long orca, said to be starving and weak, has been captured by sea mammal experts in the Wadden Sea.
Staff from the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk helped catch the animal, which was spotted swimming between the sea resort of Lauwersoog and the island of Ameland on Wednesday.
Because the animal, a young female, is too weak to be taken out into open sea, it has been taken to the Dolfinarium to recover and will then be released again.
Dolfinarium spokesman Bert van Plateringen told the paper the animal is fighting for her life. Dolphin trainers are constantly with her in the tanks to stop her bashing into the sides because the animal is not used to a confined space, he said.
The last time a live orca was spotted in the Wadden Sea was 1947. Orcas, also known as killer whales, are the largest member of the dolphin family.

Within days, SeaWorld stepped in and offered veterinary help, a generous and appropriate thing to do, given their dominance in the marine mammal amusement park industry:
Veterinarians with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment are counseling their counterparts at a marine park in the Netherlands who are trying to nurse back to health a female killer whale calf found off the Dutch coast.
SeaWorld says its vets are offering advice and guidance by phone.
The killer-whale calf, which has been named Morgan, is the first orca found alive in Dutch coastal waters in more than 60 years, according to Reuters. A spokesman for the marine park, Dolfinarium, told Reuters that rescuers believe the calf was separated from her mother and became lost.
The goal, the park says, is to help the animal rehabilitate and then release her back into the sea.

And now? Oddly enough, the latest press release from the Dolphinarium states (this is a Google translation from Dutch, so the syntax is off but the information is accurate):
“…The future of Morgan is currently little to say. The Dolphinarium get opinions from around the world. These opinions are valued in the coming period. All possible options will be explored. Eventually we will do what is best for Morgan.”
They have started admitting the public to see her during just a few hours a day, and are soliciting donations for her care – reasonable enough. But the young orca is gaining weight and returning to good health rapidly, and every effort should be made right now to locate her family and plan her release.
Of course as a captive, she offers fresh genetic lines for breeding for SeaWorld and other amusement parks. The question is, does little Morgan represent our compassion, or will she be another cash cow for our entertainment?

Will Morgan’s salvation become her prison? (Creative Commons photo)

Orca Calf News: It Looks Like Another New Baby Orca For L-pod!!! [Calf Update 8/23/10]

The Center for Whale Research is in the process of confirming details about the new calf, and we will let you know when it is official!

More calf updates:

L114 did not return this spring, but the other calves are all doing well.

Three year old L110 spyhopping with his mom, L83 (photo by Astrid van Ginnekin).

Seattle’s ‘Star”, J46 and little L113 are both girls:

Eight month old orca calf ‘Star’ with her mom, J-28 (photo by Emma Foster)
Calf L113 and 15 year old L91 (Photo by Ken Balcomb).

The gender of these calves is still undetermined:

J47 is an active calf, pictured here behind mom, J35 (photo by Ken Balcomb)
K43, gender unknown, is also active (photo by Emma Foster)

***Update on the ‘boys’, J-44 and J-45; they are doing great!

J44, male, is one of the oldest of the 2009 calves. (Photo by Ken Balcomb)
J45, male, is exuberant! (Photo by Dave Ellifrit)

Come Join Dolphin Activist Ric O’Barry This Sunday (8/8/10) In Requesting The Release Of Orca Whale Lolita

Coupeville, Whidbey Island, WA – August 8, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of Lolita’s capture from her family, the Southern Resident orcas, in Penn Cove off Whidbey Island, WA.

Orca Network’s founders, Howard Garrett and Susan Berta (courtesy Orca Network)

From Orca Network’s press release: “To commemorate this anniversary, Orca Network is holding several events throughout the day and evening on the waters and shore of Penn Cove to remember all the orcas who died during the captures or in captivity, and to honor Lolita, or Tokitae, the sole survivor of those taken from the Southern Resident orcas.
We are excited to have Ric O’Barry, marine mammal specialist for Earth Island Institute and the main character in the Academy Award winning documentary “The Cove” join us in Coupeville for this important event. Ric was a former dolphin trainer for the “Flipper” show at the Miami Seaquarium, but when a dolphin died in his arms he was transformed into a full time activist who has fought against dolphin captivity for decades, and in the revealing expose’ © “The Cove” which brought awareness of this captivity issues to a whole new level.
The awful possibility that plumes of oil mixed with highly toxic chemical dispersants could reach Miami in August, as predicted by NOAA, and be pumped into her tank water, adds urgency to our 15-year long efforts to retire her in her native waters. See for more on the oil threat. A bay on the west side of San Juan Island has been identified as an ideal location for Lolita’s retirement home.
Sunday afternoon August 8th at 3 pm, join us on Penn Cove in your kayak, row boat, or any kind of vessel, for a ceremonial paddle/sail/motor around the perimeter of the capture site on Penn Cove. We’ll have a wreath ceremony on the water, and Capt. John Stone of Aeolian Adventures has generously offered his 52 foot classic ketch, Cutty Sark, for those who want to be on board with Ric O’Barry and other special guests for the ceremony and a short cruise of Penn Cove (this cruise has sold out). Kayaks and small boats can be launched from Capt. Coupe Park in Coupeville, Monroe’s Landing, or the DNR access on Madrona Way (note: parking permits are required for the use of DNR parking/beach access areas).
Following the on-the-water events, join us at the Coupeville Wharf from 5 – 6:30 pm for a Reception with Ric O’Barry and other guest speakers, and view displays of the Penn Cove captures.
Concluding the event will be an evening of presentations at the Coupeville Middle School Performing Arts Center, 501 S. Main St., beginning at 6:30 pm with a silent auction, coffee and desserts, followed by guest speakers including Ric O’Barry, Ken Balcomb (invited), and Howard Garrett, as well as witnesses of the captures sharing their memories.
All events except the Cutty Sark sail are free and open to the public, though donations are welcome.”

When viewed from above, Lolita,s tank resembles a goldfish bowl.

The Orca Calf ‘Star’ Continues To Shine

Eight month old orca calf ‘Star’

Last November, when this calf was born the Center for Whale Research broke from custom and gave the baby the name ‘Star’ in addition to assigning it the usual number (J-46, ‘J’ for its family pod, and ’46’ for the fact that it is the 46th J pod member identified):

The new baby is designated J46, and we are going to call it “Star”, for the role that it will play in showing the human inhabitants in this region that it is important to clean up Puget Sound and restore healthy abundant salmon populations to the Pacific Northwest. That mission brings a message to all of the relevant human nations – USA, Canada, First Nations, Treaty, and non-Treaty – that the first intelligent mammal residents of the region are also investing in these efforts. We could not ask for a more charismatic indicator, a baby whale, to measure the success of our renewed efforts for restoration.

J pod is the most watched family of whales in the Pacific Northwest, or perhaps in the world; and, this is the first year in recent decades that they have produced three babies within one year. We will all be watching, here and worldwide, carefully and respectfully, to see if they beat the odds and all survive. This is the reality show that really means something.

‘Star’ at two months old.

All of the J-pod calves born last year look healthy, and if you look carefully at the picture below you will see all three of the calves together with Star’s mom and grandmother, the calves no doubt enjoying some play time together.

‘Star’ swimming with mom J-28, grandmother J-17, uncle J-44 and cousin J-47

So far, Star’s future is shining brightly, as people continue to increase efforts to restore Chinook salmon populations and modify commercial fisheries. This little whale is indeed an icon of humanity’s progress, and we’ll keep an eye on this Star and report her progress as time goes on.