In the midst of a recent spate of awful news, here’s some good news: the “Blackfish” effect keeps going, as SeaWorld struggles with a second major setback in just one week.
Last week I brought you the news that as a result of the backlash from this powerful documentary, SeaWorld Entertainment’s stock fell 33 percent on August 13, in response to the company’s announcement of fewer ticket sales and lower second-quarter earnings, an indication that the controversies surrounding recent trainer deaths, profiled in the “Blackfish,” were scaring investors. SeaWorld’s shares are currently trading at their lowest price since it went public last year.
On the heels of that enormous blow to the SeaWorld empire comes another defeat: the company will no longer appeal the decision by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHA) that SeaWorld “willfully” violated federal safety laws requiring a workplace to be free from recognizable hazards. The marine park company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last week that it wasn’t going to pursue the appeal of a court’s decision to uphold the citations.
Orlando-based SeaWorld, which has parks in Florida, California and Texas, received the citation after the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed during a popular “Shamu” show with the orca Tilikum. The 12,000-pound whale grabbed her and pulled her under water in front of a horrified crowd.
“Blackfish,” you will recall, is the documentary that recounts the death of Brancheau. The film chronicles the life of Tilikum and the effects of keeping these predators in captivity; it challenges the very concept of keeping killer whales for entertainment, and implies that Tilikum had been driven to madness by captivity.
Now OSHA has found SeaWorld in violation of federal workplace safety law and has effectively banned trainers from swimming with the whales.
There will be no more swimming with Shamu.
After an investigation into Brancheau’s death, OSHA recommended that trainers perform with killer whales only when they have a protective barrier or sufficient distance from the marine mammals, making it impossible for trainers to swim with the whales during shows.
How exciting that all of the pressure from activists around the globe, including Care2 members, is definitely having an impact. Hooray!
Could this mean that we are moving towards the time when SeaWorld will end its killer whale training entirely, allowing the existing whales to live out their lives, and no longer training new ones?
With the company deciding to drop its appeal of this federal safety citation, things are certainly moving in that direction.
Meanwhile, trainers will still be able to swim with the whales during behind-the-scenes safety training exercises in order to acclimate whales to humans in case someone accidentally falls into a pool, said SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs. He added that the company has also implemented new safety protocols and equipment for trainers, including an investment of $70 million in lifting floors in the pools that could quickly isolate whales.
Interestingly, SeaWorld also announced last week it was building new larger tanks for its killer whales, but declared that this had nothing to do with the bad press it has received since “Blackfish” appeared; nor with the fact that Southwest Airlines has pulled out of a partnership with them; nor with the fact that several entertainers, including country singers Trisha Yearwood and Willie Nelson and rock band Barenaked Ladies, have pulled out of planned performances at SeaWorld parks since the release of “Blackfish.”
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