SeaWorld and OSHA Are Headed Back To Court

Since administrative law judge Ken Welsch last May upheld OSHA’s citations against SeaWorld’s killer whale practices (full ruling is here), SeaWorld has been under obligation to “abate” the hazards OSHA identified: namely the danger of working in close proximity to killer whales.

In essence, OSHA’s citations combined and Welsch’s ruling (which applies to shows), mean that SeaWorld cannot have trainers swimming with the killer whales (aka waterwork), and even when the trainers are out on the pool decks they are supposed to maintain a minimum separation or have some sort of barrier between them and the killer whales.

SeaWorld has decided to take its appeal of the OSHA citations to the federal courts, but in the meantime SeaWorld has been negotiating with OSHA over when and how it must come into compliance with the citations. Since Judge Welsch’s order went into effect, SeaWorld has been asking for more time to figure out how it wants to abate the dangers OSHA cited, and has filed a Petition For Modification Of Abatement. OSHA has taken the position that SeaWorld should already be in compliance, so a new hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 15-17 in Judge Welsch’s court to hear testimony on the timing and method of abatement.

I’ve always thought that SeaWorld would like to be able to submit its fast-rising pool floors, and spare air systems (among other possible innovations) as safety modifications that abate the danger OSHA cited. That would allow trainers to get back into the pool during shows, and perform the waterwork that SeaWorld is famous for. I don’t know if this is the venue where SeaWorld will try to make that case, but it will be worth watching to see.

For its part, OSHA believes SeaWorld has been violating the citations during shows by not maintaining minimum separation and continuing to have trainers hug and touch the whales from the slideouts and pool decks without any protective barriers between them and the whales (OSHA also believes SeaWorld did not properly abate another citation regarding a stair railing). If SeaWorld is hit with two new failure to abate citations they could be looking at penalties of up to $7,000 a day for up to 30 days. That won’t break the SeaWorld bank, but it’s not small change, either.

So stand by for another court confrontation in the winter heat of Florida. Depending on what Judge Welsch decides, the federal appeal may be SeaWorld’s last chance to preserve the possibility of waterwork during killer whale shows at its parks.

17 thoughts on “SeaWorld and OSHA Are Headed Back To Court”

  1. whatever it takes to shut down ALL seaworlds the world over, works for me!!!!

  2. Shut the SeaWorld house of horrors down once and for all. Cetaceans are intelligent self-aware beings; science proves it so that means killing them is murder and holding them in captivity is cruel and unusual punishment. Never buy a ticket, you are financing the misery and death of whales and dolphins, including the dolphin slaugther in Taiji which is happening right now – google it.

  3. You are all very one-sided. The trainers adore the animals; let them back in the water with them. They are very aware of the danger they are putting themselves into.

    1. This is ridiculous. The trainers have been getting in the water with the whales since the 60s. If your dog bit someone, should you have to interact with it through a protective barrier? So dumb…I acknowledge what happened to the trainer in Florida is a tragedy, but it isn’t something that happens even once a decade. And for everyone that thinks the whales should be free, guess what? Every marine mammal released after even a few years in captivity dies. You’d rather them be dead? Then push for them to be euthanized. It’s less cruel. Why isn’t anyone pushing for pandas to be freed or lions or bears? Why do people only care about orcas? I don’t even see anyone trying to free dolphins! At this point they’re pets. Accept it. Some are the second or third generation born in captivity. No new animals are being taken from the ocean. Get over it. How do you think we all ended up with dogs and cats as pets? We bond with intelligent animals.

      1. REALLY?!? Do you just spout off nonsense for the fun of it? Dolphins and whales are being taken from their rightful homes and put into captivity every year. There are more than 100 wild-caught (not counting wild-rescued) dolphins held in captivity in the United States, and the U.S. Navy has 32 wild-caught dolphins. Here is a little light reading to educate you. dolphins

      2. Let me rephrase, there are no new wild caught animals being put in captivity for entertainment purposes. In the reference article you linked, it does not specify how long these animals have been in captivity except one. Nellie has been in captivity for 59 years. Exactly how long do you think wild marine mammals live for? That site is poorly written and not very believable. It’s incredibly difficult to take you seriously when you use an analogy such as me being trapped in my bath tub my whole life. That is false and dramatic. You should be mad at the people who supported this more than 50 years ago. I also like how no one addressed trying to release any other animals from captivity. It has also been acknowledged that you can release the animals currently in captivity. What do you want? Also, don’t buy into the propaganda. Educate yourself by going to an oceanarium and talking to people. They’re no more than zoo keepers. Not horrible whalers.

      3. No new animals are being taken? So the requests for Sea World to import new Belugas from the ocean is what? Dolpins being purchased from Taji is what? They get new animals when they need them. Yes, the ones in captivity can not be released, but they should not be allowed to replace them or breed them for the future. They are social creatures that need their pods. Plus their life span is drastically reduced in captivity. Imagine if you were locked in your bathtub your whole life with no room to move about like you are used to. Plus you can no longer see your family and you will die sooner than normal.

  4. Even with a fast rising pool floor I doubt that Dawn Brancheau could have been saved. She became his personal possession, and I don’t think that he would have ever given her up willingly. If another death or a severe injury occur now I would think that SeaWorld could be sued for negligence as well, and they certainly can’t say that they never saw it coming. OSHA, in my opinion, dropped the ball when they fined SeaWorld $75,000. I would imagine SeaWorld Orlando takes that at the gate on any given day, it is a ridiculously small amount for a company of their size. As long as people don’t know what happens to these animals, and how they became our captives, people will go there. Hopefully the public will eventually come to realize that almost everything SeaWorld stands for is anti the animals.

  5. I remember my first trip to SeaWorld when I was 6, It will forever influence my life.Im about to graduate and my dream is to be a trainer and always has been. I know the risks and they would never stop me. The same way I dont think twice about getting on a 1200 lb barrel horse who could EASILY kill me. As a matter of fact, ive had several serious injuries. The fact is a love for an animal over weighs the risk. You could bet your ass id jump in that water.

    1. Kasey, thanks for your comment. I agree that trainers are able to make their own choices about risk. And I could understand why you or anyone else might find the idea of swimming and performing with a killer whale thrilling. The part of the equation I struggle with, or have a hard time understanding, is the “love” part. You suggest that your love for the animals makes you willing to accept the risk. But how do you reconcile your “love” for the animals with the fact that they are not in their natural environment, and they are not there by choice? This is not meant to be a tendentious question. I really would like to understand your thinking on it, because it is something I have trouble understanding. I feel like the willingness to take risk, and the desire to be a trainer, is often about the person’s desire to experience the thrill of working with a killer whale, and the thrill of having a “relationship” with a killer whale. But I have a hard time seeing how it is about “love” for the animal. Any thoughts you’d be willing to share would be much appreciated. Tim

      1. Have you ever loved or wanted a pet? It is the same. The animal doesn’t choose to live with you, you choose it and bring it into your environment. Lots of kids capture lizards, birds and other wild animals and bring them home. They also still love the animal if it bites them and continue to risk the chance of being bitten again. People like animal companions. This is nothing new. This is how we have domesticated animals.

      2. Interesting comparison, but not really the same. I actually object to kids grabbing up everything that interests them, without much thought or consideration for the animal itself. I would prefer it if humans tried to live their lives and satisfy their curiosity without impacting the natural world (or at least trying to minimize the impact). But there is a big difference between the sentience and awareness of a snake or spider, and a killer whale. And while there are indeed domesticated animals who benefit from human relationships (I have a dog), and if given a choice would choose to stay, marine mammals are not in the world of humans by choice. Nor are they treated like pets (more like farm or work animals). Capturing an orca calf and separating it from its family is a lot less like putting a spider or snake in an aquarium than it is like kidnapping a young child because you think the child is cute. You will probably dismiss that example as too extreme. But you need to keep in mind that dolphins (and orcas) are among the very few species (humans, primates and elephants being the others we know about so far) that are self-aware. And they are arguably the second smartest species on the planet (behind humans but ahead of primates), with cognitive and communicative capabilities that we have only just begun to appreciate. In that context, I think my analogy is logically closer to the truth than the analogy you make. Something to think about anyhow.

      3. I am actually aware of these things. The pet comparison may not have gotten through what I had hoped. I just feel like it is already too late. Just like no one would release their pet back into the wild and expect it to survive, these animals would die as well. They are up to third generation captive born already. I know there are groups keeping careful watch on the marine parks in the United States, and they are not separating mothers and calves. I think too many people have watched ‘The Cove” and know nothing of what it is really like. The people who made that are in fact the very ones who started this mess. Things were very different back then. This is pre Marine Mammal Protection Act. Not enough information regarding what is learned from animals in captivity is being shared which is probably why so many people see it as only bad. It isn’t. To speak on your point regarding self aware animals, no one has answered why people fight so hard for marine mammals and not other animals. An elephant in a zoo clearly must be suffering just as a whale. It once was able to roam Africa or Asia and now trapped in an enclosure. Why doesn’t anyone care about them? Or primates? A chimpanzee destroyed a woman’s face around a year ago. Why didn’t that spark interest in freeing them? I don’t see why activist fight so hard for marine mammals, actually just orcas, rarely anything else.

      4. Thanks, Michelle. Just a few quick things. 1) No one (at least know one who knows about orcas) thinks you can release marine park orcas back into the wild (save for, possibly, orcas like Lolita, or Morgan). Instead, a reasonable goal would be to urge marine parks to stop breeding orcas in captivity, and allow them to continue their orca programs for as long as the current generation of marine park orcas is alive (though it would be nice if they took steps to improve the lives and enrichment of the orcas). And as the current generation dies off, bring the shows to an end. 2) Marine parks do not have a new policy against separating mothers and calves. And I believe we will see that they continue to do so with Katina and Kohana’s calves, for example. And 3) There are many, many people (including many who are active in the orca world) who passianetly defend the rights of elephants and primates. I urge you to take a look at this website for more information:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: