SeaWorld Rejects Federal Order To Protect Orca Handlers

SeaWorld bills itself as an amusement park, but its business practices are anything but amusing. The company imprisons wild animals in cramped tank environments, forcing them to perform tricks for the entertainment of guests. But few members of the cheering audience realize there’s a dark side to the industry.

SeaWorld’s mascot is Shamu, a fictional orca. These massive creatures weren’t dubbed “killer whales” for nothing: they are capable of sudden, viscous attacks — a behavior that keeps them safe and well fed in the wild, but is viewed with horror when it occurs in our world.

In 2010, Tilikum, a captive orca at SeaWorld in Orlando, suddenly grabbed her trainer, Dawn Brancheau, shook her around like a rag doll, and pulled her under water, where she drowned. At the time, SeaWorld staff tried to claim that Tilly was playing, and didn’t know any better, but there are lots of good reasons to think that the attack was motivated by rage at her long-term imprisonment.

While animal rights advocates continue to fight for the release of orcas, dolphins and other marine creatures held captive by SeaWorld, a new disturbing detail of the saga has come to light.

An investigation by wildlife expert and Death At SeaWorld author David Kirby recently confirmed that SeaWorld is secretly fighting an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ban on trainer/orca interaction during “Shamu” show segments.

In-water work–where trainers swim with, ride upon, and rocket from the powerful predators–with the orcas was declared a safety hazard and forbidden by OSHA in a citation issued by that agency after the tragic 2010 incident. The ruling was upheld by a federal judge and a Labor Department commission in late spring 2012, but like its continued disregard for animal safety, SeaWorld seems more concerned with losing money than protecting trainers.

Since the 2010 killing of Brancheau, SeaWorld “still allowed its trainers to keep in close contact with the whales—except Tilikum—during “dry work,” which is typically performed on stage or in special “slide out” areas, where trainers embrace, kiss and caress the animals,” writes Kirby.

In response, OSHA Chief inspector Lara Padgett issued a citation for SeaWorld’s “willfull” violations, writing that trainers were “exposed to struck-by and drowning hazards in that they were allowed to engage in ‘waterwork’ or ‘drywork,’ ” without proper protection. But still they continue. And now we find out that the powerful corporation is working behind closed doors to broker its own deal with the Agency.

The precise subject matter of the discussions was not disclosed, but a source close to the case—and documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act—indicate that SeaWorld wants to keep trainers in contact with the whales during certain “Shamu” show segments.

“The government’s position was strong,” Dr. David Duffus, the government’s expert witness at the Brancheau trial, told TakePark. “I hope OSHA won’t give any leeway on this. If they do, they will really be compromising trainer safety. Any time a killer whale can actually make contact with you, you are not safe. It is complete arrogance on SeaWorld’s part to suggest otherwise.”


Related Reading:

SeaWorld Orca Suffers Gruesome Injury–But How?

24th Orca Dies At SeaWorld

Why Are We Celebrating Birth of An Orca Whale At SeaWorld?


Image via Thinkstock


Manel Dias
Manel Dias4 years ago

These poor animals are belong in the sea. Not in the tanks for people to make money and the profit. Those who make these animals suffer for their own benefits are scum bags.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe4 years ago

SeaWorld should let them all go back to their home in the ocean!!

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

how moronic. but it is all about money People need to just stay away from places that have captive wild animals like that.

Arild Warud

Set them free.

Amy R.
Past Member 5 years ago

free willy!!

Star S.5 years ago

noted- dreadful situation-

Stephanie Pease
Stephanie Pease5 years ago

These animals love their trainers. Nobody, NOBODY, can force a 3-ton killer whale to do anything that the animal doesn't want to do. You want Seaworld to dump them into the ocean? Do you just not look at your facts, or do you want them to die?

Ajla C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Katie K.
Katie K5 years ago

I detest these places along with zoo and aviaries. None of these animals should be put on display like this. How humiliating to be oggled and abused for monetary gain. I do not know why we humans think so little of our fellow planet dwellers....then again, we aren't all that nice to one another for that matter.