Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society Welcomes Citation against Sea World Following Tragic Death of Orca Trainer

WDCS table of incidents involving trainers highlights issues surrounding captive orca shows

LONDON, United Kingdom--()--The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) has welcomed today’s official announcement from the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that it has issued a citation against Sea World determining the company’s interactive orca programmes (including its circus style shows) willfully exposed employees to recognized hazards that were likely to cause death or serious physical harm. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with ‘plain indifference to, or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.’ The proposed penalty for this violation is $75,000 leaving Sea World with 15 days to comply or contest the citation before the independent US Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The citation is the result of OSHA’s investigation into the death of orca trainer, Dawn Brancheau at Sea World Orlando in late February, which has raised many questions about the dangers associated with keeping such large predators in captivity and also about whether the orcas themselves suffer from their confinement.

WDCS maintains that orcas are unsuitable for captivity and has compiled a comprehensive record of injuries and incidents between captive orcas and their trainers stemming from the 1960s until the present (see attached). The record indicates that aggressive and unpredictable behaviour, and therefore risk, is inherent within the performing orca industry, and clearly demonstrates why OSHA’s action is justified.

Cathy Williamson, captivity programme manager for WDCS, noted: “These highly intelligent, highly social, large predators, live much shorter lives in captivity than their counterparts in the wild. They can also be dangerous, as we saw with this particularly tragic death in February. WDCS believes it is time to end the keeping of these amazing animals in captivity and for the suffering to stop”.

Dawn Brancheau died after she was pulled into the water in front of spectators by a large male captive orca, Tillikum, a story that caused a great deal of shock around the world. WDCS was not surprised by this incident, the third to have involved Tillikum in the death of a human, but believes it to be the result of the unsuitable confinement of these highly mobile species in captivity.

“Surely the continued premature deaths of orcas in captivity and the risks to trainers cannot be justified by the so-called educational benefits of keeping these animals in captivity, especially when those benefits are being increasingly called into question,” stated Courtney Vail, campaigns officer for WDCS. “We commend OSHA for seeking the truths behind orca-trainer interactions at Sea World and considering the long history of injuries and accidents that have preceded Ms. Brancheau’s unfortunate death. We applaud the agency’s perseverance surrounding the investigation of this tragic event.”

WDCS is calling for much stricter regulation and governmental oversight of the captivity industry in the United States and elsewhere and campaigns against capture, trade and confinement of all whales, dolphins and porpoises. Their physical, social and mental needs cannot be met in captivity and the public display industry is a threat to populations in the wild that are targeted by live capture operations used to supply dolphin display and swim with programmes worldwide.

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Editors Notes:

1.WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, is the global voice for the protection of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and their environment. Established in 1987, WDCS has offices in the US, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Germany, and the UK and maintains a worldwide network of consultants, researchers and supporters. WDCS funds conservation and research projects in countries all around the world. Visit www.wdcs-na.org for more information.

2.Attached table of orca attacks on trainers complied by WDCS

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Contacts

WDCS Press Office
01249 449 534, 07834 498 277
press@wdcs.org
Or
WDCS-NA
Courtney Vail, 480-747-5015
courtney.vail@wdcs.org
www.wdcs.org

Contacts

WDCS Press Office
01249 449 534, 07834 498 277
press@wdcs.org
Or
WDCS-NA
Courtney Vail, 480-747-5015
courtney.vail@wdcs.org
www.wdcs.org