Is Seaworld Indifferent to Trainer Safety?

With the Seaworld vs. OSHA hearing finally coming to close, we all anxiously await a verdict. Most of us are familiar with the citation that OSHA gave Seaworld, saying that waterworks should not be allowed until proper safety precautions are taken. But the goverment cited Seaworld for 2 other violations including: subjecting the trainers to falls by failing to install railing on the stairs at Shamu Stadium, and electrical receptacles of Shamu Stadium exposed to the elements also putting the trainers at risk of being electrocuted.

In 2006 an orca whale named Kasatka dragged a trainer underwater at a California Seaworld Park. OSHA investigated the accident and wrote an 18 page report citing several safety violations commited by Seaworld Corporation stating: “swimming with captive orcas is inherently dangerous and if someone hasn’t been killed already it is only a matter of time before it does happen.” Seaworld protested the report and forced OSHA to rewrite, claiming that they were in no position to criticize Seaworld given that they are not experts on captive killer whales or the safety involved in training. OSHA backed down, and the report was rewritten on 8 pages.

On December 24, 2009, Alexis Martinez, a trainer at the Spanish zoo, Loro Parque, was killed. The autopsy revealed that Alexis died by mechanical asphyxiation, his chest and internal organs crushed in the jaws of Keto- a Seaworld killer whale.

When Seaworld heard the news, they responded with what was seemingly concern, prohibiting waterwork with the whales at their parks. Animal-training curator Kelly Flaherty-Clark reviewed the video of Martinez death. When she decided that “the level of experience of trainers at that park did not mirror the level at [my] park,” she allowed her “more experienced” trainers back into the water with the whales less than 48 hours after they had been prohibited.

Exactly 2 months later on Febuary 24, 2010, Dawn Brancheau died of drowning and traumatic injuries at Seaworld Orlando, when Tilikum attacked her, tearing off her scalp and arm inflicting blunt force injuries. This time there were investigations by OSHA, the Sherrif’s Departments, and the USDA. OSHA published their findings, citing Seaworld for willfully exposing their trainers to “struck-by and drowning hazards,” by allowing them to perform in the water with killer whales. Seaworld again, protests the reports and contests their findings in court.

All 3 of these instances reveal that Seaworld either doesn’t want to change their safety protocols or doesn’t care. Right now they are apparently working on rising the floors of the tank in case of an emergancy, or emergancy oxegyn supplies for the trainers. These actions are being taken ONLY after several deaths by Seaworld’s whales, countless attacks, and finally- the goverment dragging Seaworld Corporation, kicking and screaming.

At the moment the trainers are not allowed in the water with the whales until appropriate safety measures are taken by Seaworld. If a trainer were to be attacked by a whale, a spotter would ring an alarm and throw a rope or a net into the tank and hope for the best. Such a primitive safety system for a company that brings millions in profit.


9 thoughts on “Is Seaworld Indifferent to Trainer Safety?

  1. @cetaceaninspiration- if SeaWorld did something I personally believed was wrong, I wouldn’t work with them. Although I am mainly pro-cap, I really like your blog it’s very interesting and you have several good arguments. Thanks! 🙂

  2. Did you know that Sea World at one time had a couple of Orcas [ Killer Whales ] in their public access petting pool in California? It’s true. I was going to college at the time and got to know them on my own from outside the training culture. A total of four young Orcas [ 2M and 2F ] were cycled through the tank in pairs. Here is one of them.

    I did not use food to trick them over. I simply spent a lot of time at the tank waiting for them to come over on their own to check me out. Once they got to know me and mutual trust was established, they allowed me to do things like the above picture shows.

    What has changed since that time to the present? Was Sea World risking the public by putting Orcas in such an open access display? Is it the decades living in a cement swimming pool compared to the open ocean that has made them aggressive? Is it the fact that the humans disappear at night and return in the morning which upsets the cetaceans cultural norms? Separation in the open ocean usually means death.

    Of the four Orcas I got to know, two are still alive :

    SWC-00-7801 – Kotar – male
    SWC-00-7804 – Kasatka – female
    SWC-00-7806 – Katina – female
    SWC-00-7705 – Canuck 2 – male

    Interestingly enough, it is the two females, one in California and one in Florida who now lead their respective pods. I wonder if they would remember me after all this time. My research has not found any public record of any communication attempts with orcas, only bottle nose dolphins. I feel it is time to “step up the game” and try communicating with the Orcas, who are the largest dolphin, Flipper’s big brother if you will.

    I think it’s long past time that we started.

    I am not now nor ever have been a trainer or employed by facility that has cetaceans. I simply was willing to spend time getting to know them, building a relationship with them. Showing them my trust in them that they would not hurt me and in turn being showed that I was trusted by being allowed to do things like a pec rub or having them lay their flukes in my arms for a rub down. I made mistakes along the way and have scars to show for it. It was a learning experience for both of us. They tested me often and I was able to teach them about how fragile humans are compared to them. When one grabbed an arm up to the elbow in his mouth testing my trust, I was able to teach him how much pressure I could stand and what level I was comfortable with. Afterwards I was never grabbed harder than the comfort level I had established, by *any* of them, so they obviously were able to exchange this information amount themselves. On their records are listed several times where Katina and Kasatka have ‘mouthed’ a body part of a trainer for various reasons. It’s a good thing I taught them about human frailty when I did or it could have been bad for the trainer. Or it shows considerable intelligent restraint on their part.

    Cetaceans are intelligent and do have a language. I’ve been involved in three different interspecies communications projects in my life, and have many hundreds of hours of hands on experience with them. I’ve swum with both wild and captive dolphins. All were successful to some degree and within the limits of what was trying to be done.

    What is really needed is communication, to be able to converse with this intelligence and learn more about it.

    The problem is *frequency* not language.

    The majority of their vocal range [ up to 250 Khz for some species ] is above the human hearing range [ tops out at 20-22 Khz ]. Humans are simply not designed to hear what Cetaceans are saying. Because of this some technology, i.e. computers, are required for effective and useful communication to take place. Back on JANUS, the computers being used then [ 1985 ], a DEC PDP-11 and two Apple II+s as terminals were simply not up to the task of analyzing the dolphins sounds despite being state of the art at the time. Now, decades later I think they are. I’ve been working on the specifications and design of such a system. A prototype system could be built without too much difficulty or expense. Some of the hardware that was required in the past can now be done in computer software making it easier and more adaptable as well.

    Being able to talk to Cetaceans would be what SETI has been trying to do for years by looking outward find an Alien Intelligence. Perhaps they should turn inward and look to Cetaceans? They certainly have the computing power that would be necessary for realtime two way communication. It would also certainly be a non human [ alien ] intelligence, and its effect on human culture would be just as profound. Maybe even more profound.

    Is the human race ready for such a breakthrough?

    Would an “Alien Intelligence” be more acceptable to the human race if it came from home [ earth ] instead of “Out There”? I think it might.

    What would human race do if we cracked the communications barrier and Tilikum said “You guys used to get in the water and play. I’m sorry, it was an accident.” That would certainly alter the perspective of the issue at the very least. Hopefully it would also mean we stop hunting them for “Scientific Research”.

    Humans have been mostly limited to the land [ 25% of the planet ] for most of history, so who is to say that an intelligent species did not develop in the remaining 75% over the history of the planet? Especially when the territorial ranges don’t overlap.

    • I did know that SeaWorld had a petting pool for the orcas as I had come across a photo awhile back, but I didn’t know any details. I’m so thankful that you shared all of this with me! I’m afraid there is not much for me to say, I’m simply reveling in the information. I am in school right now for biology also hoping to establish cetacean-initiated communication as my long-term life goal. Do you have the means to begin this study? I know that Denise Herzing is beginning a similar study on dolphins in the Bahamas this summer. If you need any help in your research or are willing to share some updates, please email me! My address is I’m very grateful for your reply. Thank you for reading my blog.

    • Wish they still did this… you know you have to take risks otherwise you will just be at home miserable all your life… this is my dream job and I am not going to let anything get in my way!

      • Well I wouldn’t still want to work at SeaWorld if I saw something I personally believed was wrong. Although I am mainly pro-cap I really like this blog and I appreciate it when anti-caps are respectful to us pro-caps like you are! 🙂 BTW I would never have wanted to work with orcas at SeaWorld if I hadn’t had a dream about orcas in the wild a few years ago! Thnx for this blog its quite interesting!

        • point being ‘a dream about orcas IN THE WILD’ (not ‘behind bars’)! You may be misinterpreting your ‘dream’.

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