Today, SeaWorld is taking the United States to court. Their lawyers are challenging OSHA’s ruling requiring that orca trainers stay out of the water — a ruling made after Dawn Brancheau was killed by a male orca last year. At the heart of the matter is that the SeaWorld lawyers are attempting to suppress evidence, videos of the incidents, etc. They’re effectively trying to whitewash the situation, make it seem as though it was just an accident, as though their modification will provide a safe environment for the trainers. (For more details on the case and actions, visit the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society’s page.)
The facts tell a different story. Dawn was just one of at least two trainers killed last year. Across the Atlantic at a Canary Island facility that SeaWorld has orcas at, a man was killed within just weeks of the latest Tilikum incident. And that doesn’t begin to account for all of the orcas’ lives lost to the captivity that SeaWorld tries to justify under the inaccurate claim of Education. Truth is, orcas seldom live to even half of their normal, expected lifespans in SeaWorld tanks. Fact is, many die within a year of being captured, and even those born in captivity see a very small fraction of the years they’d have in the wild. SeaWorld’s propaganda machine tries to paint a different picture, and their lawyers are trying to get the facts suppressed. Why? Because if the full truth were known, they’d be shut down and never allowed to reopen again.
SeaWorld’s changes include a Spare Air canister and CO2 cartridge lifevests. Not only is the premise flawed (as it’s exceedingly difficult to get to a Spare Air while being thrashed about by an upset orca,) the equipment itself creates a greater risk. Their rising floor is not working properly (yet), and that, too, poses risks for both trainers and orcas. Another ignored truth (which those of us who have worked with cetaceans could tell) is that there was AMPLE warning by all three of the orcas in the shows that day, behaviors warning them that the orcas were discontent, aggravated. But because there was money involved, the shows were brought back on prematurely. In the final analysis, if she hadn’t been in the tank with Tilikum, Dawn would still be alive today, and NONE of the measures proposed by SeaWorld would have changed the outcome.
Perhaps it’s time we acted on behalf of the orcas, to take SeaWorld to court. They claim to be performing education, when the truth is they’re only providing entertainment — at a whopping $81 per person per day! SeaWorld supporters claim that people wouldn’t even know about orcas and dolphins if not for SeaWorld’s shows. First off, that’s far from true. The world became familiar with dolphins via a TV show called “Flipper” decades ago, and SeaWorld is simply capitalizing on that interest. The perpetuation of the term “killer whale” was also an attempt to sensationalize the creatures. Orcas have NEVER attacked humans in the wild. In fact, there are several credible accounts of wild orcas seeking out our company, treating us as fellow sapient beings. But if people want or need to see orcas, they can do so with whale watching tours and cinematic experiences. Keeping them captive against their will is neither necessary nor justifiable.
Technology moves forward. As you’re reading this, there are plans moving forward to build a cinema in the round — people in the middle of 3-D Imax-style true size orcas, surrounded by their natural movements, sounds, etc. No captivity necessary, and a far more enriching experience for the humans. For a lesser price at the box office and, more importantly, without loss of life or the cruel realities of captivity, one can see and learn about orcas as they truly are, rather than a synthetic show that always results in deaths.
That lawyers are moving to suppress evidence is itself ample indictment. Despite the spins that their PR people put on virtually everything, SeaWorld is not a happy place for dolphins or their handlers. Despite convenient claims to the contrary, there is no evidence to support the claim that captured orcas cannot be released to the wild, nor that orcas born in captivity cannot survive in the wild. Please join us in supporting an end to all long-term or commercial captivity of orcas, other dolphins and whales. Thank you.
EDIT: The hearings continue , now scheduled into mid-November. SeaWorld isn’t coming out on top of it this time. More information is coming up to show that which some of us already knew — that they blatantly and intentionally lied about what happened to dawn, both with initially saying that she slipped and fell into the pool, and with the claim that he initially grabbed her by her ponytail. We remain hopeful that this will be another nail in the coffin that rids us of captive cetaceans. — JT 11/11/2011 11pm EST