Source: Mail Online, ABC
New Book Claims ‘Killer whales at Seaworld had teeth removed with power drills and were left to mourn on own after being separated from young.’ A new book has produced a damning verdict on SeaWorld and the future of keeping killer whales in captivity in the wake of trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death at the hands of Tilikumin (Tilly) in 2010 pictured here.
A new book examining the dark side of keeping killer whales in captivity has slammed SeaWorld for its treatment of the enormous beasts and for massive safety failings which still haunt the world famous marine parks. Claiming that the 12,000 pound animals are self- harming and that staff are inadequately prepared for another killer whale attack incident, ‘Death at SeaWorld’ has been published two-and-a-half years after the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in Orlando. Written by New York City reporter David Kirby, ‘Death at SeaWorld’ claims that killer whales kept in captivity suffer immense emotional and psychological trauma and spoke to former trainers and campaigning animal rights advocates to present his damning case.
Staff interviewed by Kirby told him of killer whales destroying their teeth on metal gates and then subsequently having those teeth removed by staff wielding power drills. In addition, he claims that calves are separated from their mothers causing both parent and child massive distress and in one instance almost leading to a fatality as an irate mother took out her anger on a trainer at SeaWorld’s San Diego headquarters.
Furthermore, Kirby claims that staff are instructed to get Tilikum to come out of the water and roll and then masturbate him with a gloved hand, collecting the semen for the park’s artificial insemination program.
Killer whales in captivity have a mortality rate two-and-a-half times higher than those living in the Pacific Northwest, according to figures produced by marine mammal scientist Naomi Rose of the Humane Society. One staff member that Kirby spoke to is called Jeffrey Ventre and he was fired from the park in 1995 for his expressive views on the treatment of the animals.
Sea World and other prisons claim that killer whales in captivity do not pose a danger to the prison guards/trainers. See the history of 106 killer whale attacks rebelling against slavery from 1968 through July 2012. How can anyone claim this is not torture for the whales?
‘SeaWorld can make the environment safe, according to them, 98% of the times,’ said Ventre to ABC’s 20/20. ‘But what happens when the world’s top predator decides to go off behaviour?’
Let go from SeaWorld for kissing a killer whale’s tongue, a banned action, Ventrea said that most staff members violated the so called ‘tongue-tacticle’ rule and were not fired.
Trainer Dawn Brancheau’s with killer whale Tilikumin before he rebelled against his captivity
and killed her in 2010.
Attracting up to 12 million visitors a year across the three locations, SeaWorld was rocked by Brancheau’s death after Tilikum dragged her by her ponytail into the water, scalped her and dismembered her.
One former trainer, John Jett, told Kirby that trainers were not fully aware of the safety problems related to killer whale work, however one senior trainer told a court investigating Brancheau’s death that SeaWorld staff were told they may not survive falling in the water with Tilikum.
Former trainer John Jett also listed several other incidents that happened while he was employeed by Sea World:
‘A lack of detailed information was the norm whenever accidents happened at other parks,’ said Jett.
‘I remember one incident when all of us were pulled from water work for a short time. ‘To this day, I don’t know what happened.’
An initial report after a trainer narrowly survived being killed by a killer whale named Kasatka in 2006 made for shocking reading.
‘If someone hasn’t been killed already, it is only a matter of time before it does happen,’ said the California Occupational Safety and Health Program.
However, this line was not added to the final report and Kirby believes that SeaWorld pressured for it to be removed. Now after federal rulings which keep trainers out of the water with killer whales, SeaWorld has a specific emergency procedure should someone fall into the water.
‘Assuming there’s an emergency where someone does get pulled into the water, an employee sounds the alarm, which triggers a park-wide emergency alert system,’ said Kirby to a local radio station. ‘That lets people know something went wrong in Shamu Stadium.
‘I believe that ever since Tilikum, there’s always somebody on stage with their finger on the button during a performance.
‘People are trained to come running. Everyone is supposed to have a role. Some people are in charge of distracting the whale, try to call it back under control, using signals, underwater tones, food, hand-slapping on the water.
‘A certain number of people are employed to unfurl the nets, designed to separate the trainer from the whale, or try to get it to go into a different pool. ‘And others are there to try to use shepherd’s hooks, floatation devices and what are called pony bottles of air for the trainer. ‘The main task is to separate the whale from the human who’s in trouble.’
However, despite this, Kirby is adamant that SeaWorld was responsible for Brancheau’s death. ‘If anybody’s at fault, it’s SeaWorld,’ said Kirby.
Operating in San Antonio, San Diego and Orlando, all SeaWorld’s killer whales are called ‘Shamus’ in honour of the park’s original animal and up until the Brancheau incident were forced to perform acrobatic displays with their human trainer’s in “large” pools.
‘It basically relied on the trainer’s own judgment and ability to recognize precursors to aggression in a killer whale. ‘It was their own skill that was supposed to save their skin. ‘But I’m not a judge and I’m not a lawyer.’
The book comes some two months after a ruling by a federal judge affirming two safety citations against SeaWorld by the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration. In May, Ken S. Welsch, a federal administrative law judge for the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, downgraded one of the violations cited by OSHA and reduced the fines SeaWorld was facing by tens of thousands of dollars. ‘OSHA failed to establish SeaWorld manifested plain indifference to employee safety,’ said Ken S. Welsch.
‘On the contrary, the record demonstrates SeaWorld constantly emphasised safety training and was continuously refining its safety program.’ However, he was critical of the pressure on staff to always be prepared to implement these safety protocols. ‘SeaWorld holds trainers to a near-impossible standard set by upper management, who engage in a form of Monday morning quarterbacking,’ said Welsch.
‘Once a trainer is in the water with a killer whale that chooses to engage in undesirable behaviour, the trainer is at the whale’s mercy. ‘All the emergency procedures, nets, underwater signals and hand slaps are useless if the whale chooses to ignore them.’
While SeaWorld is still hopeful that it can return its staff into the water with the killer whales, it has stated that it ‘remains dedicated to the safety of its employees and well being of its animals.’
Indeed, in reply to the allegations made by Kirby, the park is adamant that it is ‘a model for marine zoological facilities around the world’ and that additions ‘in the areas of personal safety, facility design and communication have enhanced this program further still.’
Tilikum (Tilly), a 22-foot, 12,000-pound killer whale, killed marine mammal trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 after pulling her into his tank at SeaWorld Orlando. This is clearly a tragedy – but one for animals as well as humans.
This whale has spent 25 years in captivity. In the wild, killer whales like Tilikum travel around 150-200kms every day. In captivity, they live in pools barely big enough to hold them. The recent attack is a clear indication that he is suffering from frustration and from a severely deprived environment.