Congress Responds To The Death Of SeaWorld Trainer Dawn Brancheau

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Do to the complicated laws governing captive marine mammals, it will take an Act of Congress to remedy the circumstances that allow theme parks to put humans in dangerous situations for entertainment, and permits those parks to keep orcas in inadequate tanks.

And it looks like Congress has decided to step in and do something. On April 27, the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife is convening a meeting to study the issue, and have asked for testimony – at least from federal officials. I hope that they also ask to hear from whale biologists, and listen to the complaints that have been lodged by the Humane Society.

Something has to be done to keep the trainers safer, and even though most of them love the whales in their charge the truth is that they have very little power or control when administrative decisions are made. They can’t do much to change the pool size, or where and when animals are transferred or how they are used. It is very frustrating and heartbreaking, and any improved regulations for the animal’s welfare will only help the trainers in the end.

Safer trainers and happier animals, sounds like a win/win to me.

I’ll fill you in on how to voice your opinion to the House committee soon.

The legal situation governing captive marine mammals (from a previous post):

What it boils down to is that Lolita needs a lawyer, and a good one. Here is why:

-First, Lolita was captured right before the Marine Mammal Protection Act was implemented.
-Second, because she was caught ‘pre-act’, the powers-that-be decided she should be directly excluded from the status of endangered that protects the rest of her family (the document reads ‘any member of J, K, or L pods’ in captivity).
-Third, Animal Welfare is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture. When it came to determining what standards a dolphin or whale should have in captivity, they asked the theme parks and aquaria to set the standards, not biologists.
-Fourth, the Animal and Plant Inspection Service (known as APHIS) is required to inspect and enforce compliance with the pathetic standards set by the theme parks. It is up to them to interpret the measurements, and they consistently measure Lolita’s pool incorrectly.

– And fifth… no one in any of these organizations with whom I spoke feels they can do anything to change the standards set for captive cetaceans. But people made the decisions that allow a handful of individuals get very wealthy in the mistreatment of these gentle (and in the case of Lolita; endangered) animals. So it would seem that people can also change those laws and remedy the situation.

Meanwhile, individuals and groups continue their efforts to improve Lolita’s life. In 2009 Shelby Proie and used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain inspection records and to have their complaints addressed. As far as I can tell by looking at the documents, it looks like APHIS denied some of the information on the basis that “it’s release would cause a clearly unwarrented invasion of personal privacy”. The results that they did provide were not remarkable, other than to state that Lolita has the company of Pacific white-sided dolphins, and they are “biologically related” to orcas. That is like saying locking a human up with a monkey for company is equivalent to a human companion.

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