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SeaWorld Orlando OSHA vs. SeaWorld: The battle continues

Discussion in 'United States' started by kc7gr, 21 Sep 2011.

  1. kc7gr

    kc7gr Well-Known Member

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    SeaWorld is continuing to fight tooth-and-nail against OSHA's citations and fine, originally issued in August of 2010, in response to the death of whale trainer Dawn Brancheau.

    SeaWorld’s Case Against The Government Not Going Swimmingly…Update 9/21/11 | Candace Calloway Whiting - seattlepi.com

    The CNN clip contained in that posting is, I think, very much worth viewing (which is saying a lot, since I don't generally have much respect for mainstream media). Both David Kirby and the former SeaWorld trainer they interviewed make some good points.

    For my part: I firmly believe Dawn's death was entirely preventable, that SeaWorld is indeed to blame, and they brought the entire incident on themselves through their own arrogance.

    Honestly, did they really believe they had any chance, long-term, of working safely with an orca who was originally wild-caught, has previously killed two other people, and has a long history of aggressive behavior towards humans?

    In the 'FWIW' department: David Kirby has a new book coming in 2012, called 'Death at SeaWorld.' Apparently, it will be (among other things) a discussion of the entire Brancheau incident and the implications it has for the entire oceanarium industry.

    I think I'll borrow it from the local library before I decide if it's worth buying. Been burned too many times.

    Happier travels.
     
  2. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Interesting that both of the people interviewed in the video, one the book author and the other a former Sea World trainer, state that they now believe killer whales should not be held in captivity. Even though I am a staunch defender of zoos and aquariums, I also believe it is not feasible to build a tank big enough to meet the needs of killer whales. In fact, the former Sea World trainer actually says that one of the main things we have learned from having these animals in captivity is that they are not suitable to captivity.

    I think that says a lot coming from an insider.
     
  3. zoomaniac

    zoomaniac Well-Known Member

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    @Arizona Docent: For once, we are not on the same line. I still hope that killer whales (and other dolphins/teeth whales) will be kept in captivity further on.
    The question if a tank is big enough for such a big animal is often emotional based. Maybe you are right, maybe not. On one hand I am agree, by thinking that the Seaworld tanks are still not the optimum (not only in size). On the other hand the "cage size question" could be done for every animal living in zoos (or captivity in general). An exhibit will allways be a surrogate, no matter how big it is. And would you also think that tigers, elephants or - if you would stay at migrating animals - wildebeests, bisons and some kind of birds to not belong in captivity? If so, zoos will be empty fast.

    To the former Seaworld Trainer Carol Ray: Carol Ray has obviously not reached her age of retirement yet. So I persume that she quit her job or she has been fired. IF (I repeat IF) the last one was the case, then maybe revenge thoughts making her saying that killer whale do not belong in captivity (Anyway - how long did she worked for Seaworld to figure that out? And did anyone say Rick O'Barry?).

    To be fair: My opinion is also, that how Seaworld handled the Brancheau-Case was at least incorrect. But I hope that they will go on to optimize/develope their whale exhibitry and find a way to present those animals in an attractive AND safe show.
     
  4. kc7gr

    kc7gr Well-Known Member

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    (snippage to save space)

    A friend of mine, a 20+ year veteran trainer from the Navy's marine mammal program, once made an interesing response to my question of "So what have we, as a species, really learned from keeping dolphins and whales in oceanariums?"

    His response: "We've learned how to keep them in captivity really well."

    @zoomaniac: Just because Carol hasn't "reached retirement age" doesn't mean her views are wrong. Also, the question of whether she quit or was fired is, in my mind, completely irrelevant to the issues at hand. I would also point out, in case you missed it in the video clip, that SeaWorld was invited to give their point of view in the interview, and they declined. That fairly screams "arrogance" to me.

    I agree with ArizonaDocent. We have two completely different people, from equally different backgrounds (David Kirby is an English professor and poet), coming to exactly the same conclusion, based on available evidence. Not necessarily a rare thing, but I still find it significant in this context.

    You have a point in that no artificial environment can ever match what most animals would get in the wild. However, we're not talking about just any animal here. Orcas are at the top of the ocean's food chain, the dominant mammalian species in that environment. Even the largest ocean-going mammals on the planet (blue whales) are legitimate prey for them. I don't think there's enough money on the planet (or in SeaWorld's pockets) to construct an 'appropriate' captive habitat for them, period.

    Now, with this said, I have a couple of opposing concerns about the whole mess. On the one wing, orcas, like their smaller cousins (dolphins), are highly intelligent and social critters. I believe it would be wrong to punish, however indirectly, whales who have never so much as bruised a trainer because of the actions of a single whale with a known history of aggression (I'd call killing two other people prior to the stint at SeaWorld 'aggression').

    With this in mind, I don't think OSHA has it right in prohibiting unprotected contact with all the orcas, particularly those who were captive-born and literally grew up with humans as part of their world. They need to look at Tillikum as a single case, not lump the others together in a group with him.

    On the other wing, I think SeaWorld has seriously bungled their handling of the entire affair. I was one of the many people who, through a FOIA request, got hold of copies of the case material to date.

    It wasn't very informative, being heavily redacted due to the investigation still being open. However, I was able to detect a distinct pattern on SeaWorld's part: Specifically, one of stonewalling OSHA at every turn, and giving up requested information grudgingly, and then only after repeated requests.

    It reminded me very much of a petulant child, being confronted over something they've done which was clearly wrong, absolutely refusing to believe it was their fault. In short, their attitude has a constant unspoken undercurrent of "We're SeaWorld. It goes from God, to us, to the audience. How dare you question us?!"

    There needs to be concession on both sides. OSHA needs to back off on their crazy idea of stopping contact with all the orcas, because of the actions of one. SeaWorld needs to come out and admit they screwed up, say they're sorry, and detail what they learned from the incident and how they're going to make sure it never happens again.

    Politics and ignorance will likely preclude the first concession. Arrogance will likely preclude the second. I would love to be proven wrong, but past experience with government bureaucracies, SeaWorld, and the captive marine mammal field as a whole, makes me believe otherwise.

    Happy travels.
     
  5. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    I would like to clarify for all concerned that I only said killer whales were inappropriate in captivity. I never said anything about dolphins.

    I wonder if Sea World shot themselves in the foot by putting all their marketing around the image of Shamu the killer whale. As the author in the interview states, it is estimated that 70% of their revenue is based on killer whales. If they were ever forced out of keeping killer whales it would likely sink them. I don't know of any other zoo or aquarium where losing one single species would cause them to go out of business.
     
  6. Yassa

    Yassa Well-Known Member

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    kc7gr: The orca who killed a trainer in Loro Parque/Spain was captive born, raised at a Seaworld and had never harmed anyone before (or it was kept under the carpet...). In elephants, captive born individuals are actually more likely to attack people, and at a younger age.

    I don`t think it`s just the size of the tanks that makes keeping orcas in captivity so problematic. If you look at the death rate (check the lists at Orca Homepage), still way too many orcas die at a young age long before they would die from old age. The captive population is not growing.

    And their social system is increadibly complex, probably even more complex then elephants and great apes. That makes managing them in captivity so much more difficult. Not that Seaworld is making any effect....
     
  7. Brum

    Brum Well-Known Member

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    Surely killer whales are just a larger species of dolphin? :p
    In all seriousness I agree with you AD, species of that size and that group dynamic should be kept in larger enclosures and with more individuals to represent the natural pod dynamics and to encourage natural behaviours. If we have to rely on shows and public presentations to make the animals more stimulated then surely we are failing in the conservation attempt. I'm not saying we shouldn't keep larger cetaceans in captivity but maybe we should start keeping them for conservation rather than entertainment!

    @Yassa, I agree with what you're saying. These animals have a natural instinct and no matter how tame they appear to be can still revert to their hunting state of mind. People should recognise this in the same way that they've realised lion, tiger and bear performances are unacceptable!
    (I'd quote you but I'm not sure how to quote two comments in one reply).
     
  8. barisax235

    barisax235 Active Member

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    @Yassa: I agree with you that the population is not growing, but I don't think that you should be using death records (early age death) considering that most species when first introduced into zoos die early and often and members of every species still die early in zoos and aquariums (a sad fact). I am not saying this to minimize their deaths as each one is significant. I think that the numbers appear more staggering in orcas compared to other species because there are not many in captivity, so the percentages would be high compared to species with many representatives.
    In regards to social structure, orcas do have very complex societies, but so do many primates, ungulates, etc. I figure that (just based off of personal knowledge) the social structure of chimpanzees (fission-fusion) would be more difficult to attain than that of orcas. I find that social structures in zoos/aquaria are attempting their best, but that every species will have an altered social state in captivity.

    @kcygr: Several points:
    First: When you said that "SeaWorld was invited to give their point of view in the interview, and they declined. That fairly screams "arrogance" to me." I find that how it appears to you as arrogance is kind of strange. I have found that just about whenever something happens, the major party that is included declines to comment. (look at government activity such as police incidents, private companies, etc.) I see this as normal in that they want to limit what is said so that statements are not twisted. To me this is not arrogance, it is just a cautious approach (I am sure we all know of how the media often times likes to make stories more emotional even if the facts are incorrect).
    Second: I agree with you that it is not right to punish other whales for the incident. One of the most depressing and saddening things that I read that has come out of the court so far was that one of the whales (Kalina) died a little while ago. According to one of the trainers, she believed that if the trainers were allowed more contact, that it would have been easier to spot as the trainers would be more apt to feel a difference in her action (much easier than through observation) and that she could still be alive. To me, this is terrible.

    Another thing that we all have to look at is how this will affect other aspects of zoo/aquarium life. For instance, if orcas are "too dangerous" by OSHA's standards, what about other animals? I am sure that there are other animals that people have free contact with that are about as dangerous as orcas, just that there have not been major incidents with these animals. Again, I think it is the numbers of orcas in captivity that is exacerbating the orca focus. I have worked on a consistent basis with 150 lb Burmese python that could easily kill me if it had the chance, but there are many cases of pythons killing their handlers.

    In the end, I think the people who interact with the animals should have the largest impact in the choice as they are individuals who work with the animals on a daily basis and know (as much as humans possibly can) the best methods to care for them. I am sure that Dawn knew the risks and that all other professional animal trainers/keepers know the risks associated with the profession, but they also know the benefits.

    In terms of whether they should be in captivity, I personally believe that they are ambassadors for the species. I see all captivity as a necessary evil and I wish there was no need for it. It has been shown that orcas in the wild experience a net energy loss from human interference whether it comes from whale-watchers, scientists, or even non-whale focused boat traffic. Having animals in captivity help to reduce the amount of individuals who seek to observe them in the wild and makes it cheaper for many to be able to make a personal connection to animals (I think this is true for all zoos/aquaria). I also do not see a way in which orcas could safely be released into the wild as they are not cut out to hunt or interact with other individuals in the proper social manner.

    In terms of the performances, they are in place to keep animals interested. All animals in all zoos have some method of stimulation (many times training or enrichment). Marine mammal facilities use such stimulation as a way to connect guests to the animals while also making it more enjoyable for the animal. I have personally trained a squirrel who was much more willing to perform certain behaviors (such as crating) in the presence of more than 4 people. If there was no one besides myself, she would not participate. She adored the attention of other people and it also served as a great education opportunity for the people who watched.

    I apologize for the length, I just wished to address several points. I also apologize for any grammatical or spelling mistakes that I have made.
     
  9. zoomaniac

    zoomaniac Well-Known Member

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    @barisax235: I am agree in more or less everything you wrote. And I think you gave us a few good points to think about.

    @kc7gr:
    to Carol: I guess you missunderstood me with the "retirement" thing. I did mention it just to say that there must be a reason why she is a FORMER trainer (of course this alone has nothing to say about if her view is wrong or not). So the solution for FORMER could only be: quit or fired (or invalid, yes). And this, sorry, I still think COULD be relevant. Many fired people try to "pay back" if they have the chance (no matter if they believe in what they saying or not). I don't say that this was the case here (I wrote "IF" twice), but we should keep that possibility in mind.
    to the reaction of Seaworld: As I already wrote, I don't believe that Seaworld has a clear white shirt in this case or those cases respectively.
    to the point that orcas are not "any" animals: Well, first: Which are special and which are common/ordinary or "any" animals and who is allowed to say which is which? And is there actually a clear frontline, which species can or can't be kept in captivity? You wrote "Top on the oceans food chain". Okay, what is about animals on top of the terrestrial food chain: What about polar bears, tigers, birds of prey, crocodilians? Most have huge territories in the wild normaly. I agree so far, that water is a special enviroment, that makes it more complicated. But WHEN!!!!!!! orcas or other marine mammals can do their natural movements/behaviours in captivity so that they will not get any bad effects for their health, then I think, appropriate exhibits/tanks can be built or are in use already. (Sorry for this awful English, but I guess you know what I mean).

    @to all: I think we can all - whether we are pro or against keeping orcas in captivity - agree, that the way how orcas are kept at the moment is far away from being perfect. There is a lot to improve (not only in tank/exhibit size) and this is also valid for Seaworld. They are not gods of marine mammal husbandry, true. But they do it for many decades and have a big knowledge, no doubt. So I think they deserve a chance to make it better and find a way for an appropriate exhibitry.
     
  10. sealion

    sealion Well-Known Member

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    This is a very valid point. I think they know this and so this is probably why they seem very shady/defensive about the issue. In my opinion if they continued to branch out in the theme park department as they have done recently, they may be able to recover from the loss of orcas. However they are very very much part of Seaworld's image. This image was cultivated decades ago when there was less hype over their captivity but it has come back to haunt them now.

    Marine mammal facilities are always in a difficult position when such events occur as cetaceans have such a high profile to the public and are often treated as "special" animals by them. Orcas are probably the epitome of this special status so naturally Seaworld have to be especially careful when dealing with the press on such matters.
     
    Last edited: 23 Sep 2011
  11. zoomaniac

    zoomaniac Well-Known Member

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    I saw that I did a big translation mistake:

    What I meant was: quit or fired (or became disabled by accident or illness).

    Sorry for that confusion.
     
  12. John Dineley

    John Dineley Well-Known Member

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    I think you could make this value judgement on lots of 'zoo animals'. However, we have learned a great deal from captive cetaceans - one area is sonar use in animals - most of this was undertaken with captive animals.

    This may be of interest:

    http://www.comparativepsychology.org/ijcp-2010-3/ijcp-23-3-2010.pdf

    And certainly as far as the Navy is concerned your friends view are not held by one of their leading researchers Prof Sam Ridgway. And I certainly know a number of scientists who are very grateful to have access to captive cetaceans in zoos and aquaria to further their research.

    There are some interesting videos here including scientists who have worked with both captive and wild cetaceans [ame="http://www.youtube.com/user/aquaticmammalsjourn#p/u/30/2YTUUIudtqg"]HERE[/ame]