Skip to content

OSHA vs. SeaWorld: A Case Study Of DC In Action

August 21, 2010
Tilikum as

Image via Wikipedia

This week, OSHA was on the verge of releasing its detailed investigation of SeaWorld and its practices following the February 24 death of trainer Dawn Branchea, who was pulled into the pool by SeaWorlds largest orca, Tilikum, and thrashed to death. There was plenty of speculation that OSHA might go so far as to mandate the end of SeaWorld’s practice of putting trainers in the water with killer whales during shows. That was enough to prompt Orlando Representative Alan Grayson–normally a liberal hero–to step in, which brought forth this articulate and thoughtful response on Daily Kos, from OrcaNetwork‘s Howard Garrett. It is the best response we have seen so far:

Today’s Orlando Sentinel: U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson intervenes in probe of SeaWorld trainer’s death

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a vocal supporter of SeaWorld  Parks & Entertainment, acknowledged Thursday that he intervened in a federal investigation into the death of a SeaWorld killer-whale trainer.

Grayson, D-Orlando, personally contacted the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration earlier this week to discuss the agency’s probe of the death of Dawn Brancheau, a SeaWorld Orlando trainer who was drowned Feb. 24 by a six-ton killer whale named Tilikum.

OSHA is in the process of finalizing that investigation. The agency must issue any citations, proposed fines or recommended remedies by early next week.

Personal note to Rep. Grayson: I appreciate you standing up for all of us so many times and speaking truth to power, and I wish you a long and glorious legislative career, but you have seriously soiled your reputation by trashing OSHA at a time when it is trying to perform its legislative mandate, an all too rare example of an agency doing its job with high integrity in the face of a corporate bully. You have lined up alongside the bully this time, and that won’t be forgotten.

Orlando Sentinel:
It is not the first time Grayson has come to SeaWorld’s defense. When the U.S. House of Representatives organized a hearing in April to examine marine parks and aquariums — a hearing prompted in part by the Brancheau tragedy — Grayson made a special appearance to speak on SeaWorld’s behalf.

As Air America’s Stephanie Miller gushes, “I love him, love him, love him,” but it turns out Grayson has sided with SeaWorld’s lobby effort to derail an OSHA report.

Yes, those minimum wage jobs are valuable, and yes, we want Grayson to be re-elected many times over, but this blatant, corrupt interference in due process is an assault on democratic values. Grayson is acting as a perfect example of the corporate stranglehold on the legislative process that he otherwise so effectively battles.

Some background:
In 2006, at SeaWorld in San Diego, a trainer was dragged by his foot several times to the bottom of the 30′ deep tank and nearly drowned. OSHA’s report on that incident noted that such attacks on trainers were inevitable and that trainers were in danger whenever they swam with the whales.

Los Angeles Times:
March 02, 2007|Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — SeaWorld officials Thursday hotly disputed a finding by state investigators that it is “only a matter of time” before a trainer is killed by one of the park’s killer whales.

“The trainers recognize this risk and train not for ‘if’ an attack will happen but ‘when,’ ” said a report by the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

The report, released Tuesday, follows an investigation into a Nov. 29 incident in which Kasatka, a 7,000-pound, 17-foot-long female, dragged her trainer underwater in front of hundreds of horrified spectators at Shamu Stadium.

SeaWorld officials branded the report’s findings “highly speculative and not supported by scientific fact” and met Thursday with the Cal/OSHA district manager to ask him to withdraw or modify the report.

Although the SeaWorld trainers are experienced and well schooled in animal behavior, the risk of swimming with the behemoth mammals cannot be eliminated, the report said.

Within 24 hours SeaWorld had bullied OSHA into retracting its report and issuing a bland whitewash with no such warnings or recommendations.

Then on February 24, 2010 trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by a 12,000 pound male orca named Tilikum at SeaWorld in Orlando, commencing an investigation by OSHA that is, or was, due to be released this week. But in true form and totally in keeping with its modus operandi, SeaWorld has enlisted Rep. Alan Grayson to lie to the American public and bully OSHA to once again whitewash their report.

Orlando Sentinel:
But SeaWorld has done what it could to make that work as safe as possible,” Grayson said in the statement.

They have not. Because they got away with it the last time OSHA tried to warn them, they were lax about policies that encouraged Dawn Brancheau to lie down on a submerged ledge in front of Tilikum, from which he grasped her by the arm and dragged her to her death. The story SeaWorld is selling, that he grabbed her by her ponytail, is at odds with the taped evidence that he deliberately grabbed and dragged her by the arm.

It’s not just Tilikum endangering trainers at marine parks. See Violent incidents between humans and killer whales in captivity – a longer list than the parks would like to tell you! for a partial list.

Orlando Sentinel:
“Beyond that, SeaWorld has raised people’s knowledge and understanding of cetaceans enormously, and contributed greatly to the well-being of Central Florida and our community.”

True that SeaWorld offers thousands of low-wage jobs – even the glamorous trainers are poorly paid – but the amusement park is notorious for distorting and fabricating its version of orca natural history, like stating that the natural lifespan of orcas is only 25-35 years, to better justify the short lifespans of captive orcas. (Life spans for free-ranging orcas is 50-100 years for females and 30-60 years for males) They also demonize the natural marine environment to justify their keeping the most social mammal known to science as commodities in an entertainment industry, where they are shipped around from park to park to suit management needs.

Orlando Sentinel:

It is not the first time Grayson has come to SeaWorld’s defense. When the U.S. House of Representatives organized a hearing in April to examine marine parks and aquariums — a hearing prompted in part by the Brancheau tragedy — Grayson made a special appearance to speak on SeaWorld’s behalf.

Personal note to Rep. Grayson: I appreciate you standing up for all of us so many times and speaking truth to power, and I wish you a long and glorious legislative career, but you have seriously soiled your reputation by trashing OSHA at a time when it is trying to perform its legislative mandate, an all too rare example of an agency doing its job with high integrity in the face of a corporate bully. You have lined up alongside the bully this time, and that won’t be forgotten.

There’s one other great post on Daily Kos about this. We highly recommend you read it as well.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2016 7:51 am

    I would like to see all ORCAs returned to their natural environment. Captivity for this graceful animal is inhumane and should be a violation of US (and possibly international) law. Please let me know if there are efforts to make this happen. I would like to be part of the effort. Thank you, Gloria Hovde gloriahovde@gmail.com

Trackbacks

  1. Investigation Finds Hazardous Chemicals with Killer Whale Food Supply at SeaWorld « The Orca Project

Please Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: