On February 24, 2010 a female trainer named Dawn Brancheau was killed at SeaWorld Orlando by a 12,000 lb. killer whale named Tilikum. The video footage portraying the brutal attack has been in the possession of SeaWorld, OSHA, and investigation parties during the court hearing regarding her death. An article was published today that addressed whether or not the video of Dawn’s death would be released to other parties.
Although nearly an hour passed from initial attack to recovery of Dawn’s body, only a few minutes of video footage exists as Dawn was deemed lifeless after only 7 minutes and cameras were promptly turned off by SeaWorld staff. A written timeline of the events seen on the camera can be found here, and browsing through Dawn’s autopsy report certainly attests to the violent nature of the event.
SeaWorld has claimed ownership over the video as they and Dawn’s family have fought to stop OSHA from releasing the tape to anyone. Because SeaWorld failed to state a claim, the judge has ruled that the video is in fact available to be released under the FOIA.
Many people are very upset at this ruling. A new petition created by some pro captivity activists states that the potential release of the video “disrespects [Dawn's] memory.” The fear is that the images of Dawn’s attack may make SeaWorld look bad and would be detrimental to the park’s reputation if it were to end up in the hands of “radical extremist” groups like the Humane Society of the United states, who might use it to promote an “anti-zoo” agenda. The petition is directed at television stations such as CNN, ABC, CBS, FOX News, BBC, and E News. Even if the video was publicly released, such news stations would not air it on television, which makes the petition seem quite useless.
Although many SeaWorld fans wish Dawn was remembered for her life, the acknowledging of Dawn as an “inspiration” by captivity supporters is largely a response to her death. Before that fateful day, her name was almost entirely unknown to anyone, including aspiring SeaWorld trainers.
The judge ruled according to the law that SeaWorld did not have a claim and so could not determine whether or not the video is released. This really comes down to the interworkings of the law and FOIA. The video should not be hidden away on the grounds that it would make SeaWorld look bad as such an idea is highly dishonest. As of right now all we know is that SeaWorld no longer has the power to stop the video from being released. Whether or not it will be available to the jury, or the public, etc. is unknown. We are still waiting for a verdict on SeaWorld’s hearing with OSHA.