The report on the death of Killer Whale trainer Dawn Brancheau has been released and with it a $75,000 fine levied against SeaWorld Orlando. This article in the Orlando Sentinel makes it seem like nothing short of an attack on the methods of animal care and training SeaWorld has used for 30 years. The official SeaWorld response posted on its blog would tend to agree. I’m going to post the whole thing here because I think it makes some pretty valid points
SeaWorld disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA today and have already informed the agency that we will contest this citation. The safety of our guests and employees and the welfare of our animals are core values for SeaWorld and areas in which we do not compromise.
The tragic accident on February 24, 2010 inspired an internal review of our whale program that has been unprecedented in scope. The findings of that review have been presented to an independent committee made up of some of the world’s most respected marine mammal experts. Their conclusions, drawn from decades of experience caring for marine mammals, are in stark contrast to OSHA’s. The safety of SeaWorld’s killer whale program was already a model for marine zoological facilities around the world and the changes we are now undertaking in personal safety, facility design and communication will make the display of killer whales at SeaWorld parks safer still.
OSHA’s allegations in this citation are unsupported by any evidence or precedent and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care. Killer whales at SeaWorld are displayed under valid federal permits and under the supervision of two government agencies with directly applicable expertise: The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Department of Commerce National Marine Fisheries Service. SeaWorld is a member in good standing of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Both associations make employee safety a central feature of rigorous accreditation processes.
It also is important to note that while maintaining a safe environment for our trainers, the demands of humane care require our zoological team to work in close physical proximity to these animals. Our trainers are among the most skilled, trained and committed zoological professionals in the world today. The fact that there have been so few incidents over more than 2 million separate interactions with killer whales is evidence not just of SeaWorld’s commitment to safety, but to the success of that training and the skill and professionalism of our staff.
Since February 24, SeaWorld trainers have been caring for these animals out of the water. They will remain out of the water while we finalize and implement the measures that have progressed from the review conducted by our internal team of marine mammal experts and endorsed by an outside panel.
We look forward to challenging OSHA’s unfounded allegations and are confident that we will prevail.
Based on all my interactions with the staff at SeaWorld Orlando, I place a lot of trust in the experts at SeaWorld and their desire to provide, not only the best care for the animals they train, but the best safety for their employees. They are, by far, the leaders in their industry in both these areas. This is obviously not the last we will hear of this case.