The Miami Seaquarium has taken another blow in the ongoing battle to free its lone orca, Lolita, with a citation from the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that could end allowing trainers in the water with her during performances for good.
OSHA took similar action against SeaWorld in 2010 after trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed. SeaWorld received fines and citations for safety violations and willfully putting workers at risk. It was also required to keep trainers out of the water without physical barriers between them and orcas, leaving the Miami Seaquarium the only facility in the U.S. that still allows trainers to perform with them.
Last December, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a formal complaint with the agency over concerns that the Miami Seaquarium was putting its workers in harms way the same way SeaWorld had and argued it should face the same consequences. The organization sent an investigator to the park this May and found trainers performing in the water with Lolita and renewed its complaint.
An investigation conducted by OSHA earlier this month also found trainers working with Lolita in the water that, according to the citation, exposed them to “struck-by and drowning hazards” during “wet work and dry work performances without adequate protection,” which is a violation of worker safety laws.
OSHA issued a $7,000 fine and gave the facility until August 26 to come into compliance by banning trainers from getting into the water with Lolita and will also require it to either install physical barriers or require a minimum distance be kept between her and trainers.
Some believe that if steps like this had been taken before at other facilities, other chilling accidents could have been prevented and people like Brancheau might still be alive today.
While Lolita might still be stuck in the smallest and oldest tank in North America, at least she will no longer have to tolerate the indignity of being used like a live toy or having people stand on her face.
“We celebrate OSHA’s swift enforcement against this dangerous facility,” said Stephen Wells, ALDF’s executive director. “The Miami Seaquarium is risking trainers’ lives to exploit Lolita, a wild-captured orca, for huge revenue. The corporation continues to disregard worker safety and animal welfare laws as long as it brings in big profits.”
Though the Miami Seaquarium could challenge the violation (SeaWorld tried unsuccessfully), advocates for captive orcas hope that this will mean an end to trainers performing in shows with whales in the U.S. Lolita has been at the Miami Seaquarium for more than 40 years where she’s been exploited in the name of entertainment.
Fortunately, the tide appears to be continuing to turn against those who want to keep these intelligent, social apex predators in captivity. While Lolita’s advocates continue the fight to see her retired and returned to her family and her home waters and off the coast of Washington, Congress has finally stepped in to call for upgrades on standards of care for captive marine mammals that haven’t been updated in decades, while states are working on bans that would end orca captivity for good.
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