No More Waterwork with Killer Whales at SeaWorld!

http://blog.seattlepi.com/candacewhiting/2012/05/30/seaworld-found-responsible-in-the-case-of-trainer-dawn-brancheaus-death/

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.

MANY THANKS TO THE ORCA PROJECT http://theorcaproject.wordpress.com/

DAVID KIRBY AND HIS BOOK “DEATH AT SEAWORD” http://www.amazon.com/Death-SeaWorld-Killer-Whales-Captivity/dp/1250002028

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