SeaWorld at Fault in Trainer's Death

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Posted May 31, 2012 by Christina

There’s big news today in a case that PETA has been pursuing for some time: Consistent with the citations issued against SeaWorld in 2010, Administrative Law Judge Ken Welsch of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) found that SeaWorld is to blame for allowing its employees to interact directly with potentially dangerous orcas.

Orcas at SeaWorldPhoto: Shawn Bannon

SeaWorld Knew the Risks

For years, PETA has asked SeaWorld to transfer the marine mammals it enslaves to transitional coastal sanctuaries because confining animals to tanks equivalent to the size of a bathtub for them leads to misery and frustration—and dangerous conditions for SeaWorld staffers.

PETA had urged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to pursue a citation against SeaWorld and provided it with compiled research on the history of deaths and injuries at the park and orca aggression in captivity. The OSHRC decision affirms that SeaWorld knew that allowing its employees—like Dawn Brancheau—to interact directly with orcas such as Tilikum could have serious or fatal results.

A History of Irresponsibility

Information that came out of the testimony during a two-week hearing before Judge Welsch, as well as during previous proceedings, includes the following:

  • A senior trainer testified that trainers who work with orcas receive special instruction on Tilikum in which they’re informed that if they enter the water with him, they may not survive. Despite these concerns, trainers were approved to work in close proximity with him and physically touch him at the water’s edge.
  • Chuck Tompkins, SeaWorld’s corporate curator for zoological operations, testified that there are no specific steps for trainers to follow to respond to a life-threatening situation in the water and that their lives are ultimately up to their own “best judgment call.” Tompkins admitted that the park does not even re-evaluate its protocols after an injury or death because it blames them on “human error” and insisted that revising safety protocols is unnecessary.
  • No high-level managers of animal training at SeaWorld are formally trained in animal behavior nor do they have any professional experience with orcas other that what they learned on the job at SeaWorld. In addition, the company has never called on an independent third party to review its incidents, protocols, or safety procedures.
  • Senior SeaWorld employees oversaw orca training at Spain’s Loro Parque theme park when trainer Alexis Martinez was killed after being rammed and dragged underwater by an orca named Keto—just two months before Brancheau’s death.

While SeaWorld’s own corporate incident log contains reports of more than 100 incidents of orca aggression at its parks, government attorneys brought up incident after incident that were left out of the log. Despite the premature deaths of four human beings and more than 20 orcas at SeaWorld’s parks, the company continues to put profits over lives.

How You Can Help Orcas at SeaWorld

  • Politely ask David Michaels ([email protected]), assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, to prohibit all direct human contact with potentially dangerous animals.
  • Write to the company that owns SeaWorld and ask it to release the animals into reputable marine sanctuaries.
  • Never, ever go to SeaWorld or any other marine-animal park.




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  • 1473 days ago

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]


    As a young girl I dreamed of one day being a trainer and working with the amazing marine animals at Sea World because when I went to the park as a young child on vacation I thought it was the most amazing place in the world. I couldn’t believe that people could be so close to these amazing creatures. When I went again when I was around 12 or 13 years old I saw the “Believe” show and I was blown away. Little did I know that the animals at sea world suffer because the tanks are to them the size of a bathtub. When I found the PETA campaign to protest sea world I was heart-broken. How could the place I loved so much do so much harm. At first I told myself it wasn’t true, that Sea World was preventing human harm the animals might suffer in the wild but I have come to terms with what is really going on. i have taken the pledge to not go to Sea World and realized these animals do not want to perform but rather they want to be home in the wild.

  • 1484 days ago

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]


    Thank you PeTA. If they don’t care enough about the animals, then hit them with the loss of human life angle. Because they may consider that as a premise as opposed to the suffering of these great whales. However it is obvious that nothing will ever deter them from trying to make a fortune, even at the sufferings of any one or any thing (animals) so let’s not get our hopes up too high. This solitary confinement of these creatures is deplorable and should be stopped immediately! I know that I sure would go crazy-psycho if I were trapped like that. Those huge brains DO think and psyches Are damaged. Liken it to life sentence with no hope of parole, for a crime you never committed. People are constantly at war with the justice system for this very kind of thing. So, we must make our stand for the innocent, since the Orcas can’t hire their own lawyers. The only reason they hunt these whales is because they aren’t as large as others. On that note there is a trapped Beluga whale at the Tacoma WA Zoo as well.

  • 1485 days ago

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]


    My dad wants us to go to seaworld. im NOT going!

  • 1486 days ago

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]


    SeaWorld was founded on ssaving wounded animals from the humans that caused it. SeaWorld gave them a safe heaven to be. alot of other places are like that too. Now I know SeaWorld is now a amusement park and I have been there twice. And yes putting animals in a small area is not safe for the animal nor the people around it. But animas have complex minds just like humans and it is sometimes hard to learn enough about them to be safe when in the water with them. I’m sure the trainers are well aware about that. I’m not standing up for SeaWorld or Peta. I’m just stating I believe should be mentioned.

  • bob

    1487 days ago

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]


    But I have season passes

  • 1490 days ago

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]


    I have never been to SeaWorld or a marine-animal park, so that last one is pretty easy for me to do(:

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