This week a trial began in Florida between SeaWorld theme parks and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA). The trial is over several citations and a fine stemming from incidents in which killer whales (also known as orcas) killed or injured trainers at SeaWorld water parks. Most recently, on February 24, 2010, a giant killer whale named Tilikum gruesomely killed trainer Dawn Brancheau by grabbing her ponytail and pulling her under the water in front of a horrified audience.
In August of 2011, SeaWorld was fined $75,000 by OSHA for three safety violations, including one in connection with Brancheau’s death. The agency’s investigation “revealed that SeaWorld trainers had an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities,” the OSHA statement said.
Prior to Brancheau’s death, California OSHA had issued a citation against SeaWorld, coming to the conclusion that if procedures at the parks didn’t change, eventually somebody was going to die. SeaWorld used political lobbying to have the citation withdrawn. Just a few years later Dawn Brancheau was killed.
In yesterday’s hearing, OSHA asserted that, although SeaWorld does walk each trainer through all recorded dangerous incidents between whales and humans (98 incidents since 1988), there are many dangerous incidents that just don’t make it into the incident reports.
This brings up an important point that all employers would be smart to take note of: without comprehensive reporting, working conditions will remain unsafe.
In this video, journalist and author DavidKirby speaks to CNN’s Anderson Cooper about the trial.
This video gives a a bit more background on Tilikum and SeaWorld’s dangerous killer whales.