DYING TO ENTERTAIN
- Killer whales in captivity have an annual mortality rate that is 2.5 times higher than killer whales in the Pacific Northwest.
- Among some pods in the Pacific Northwest, males can live up to 60-70 years, with an average life expectancy of 30, and females can live to 90 or more, with an average life expectancy of 46.
- Most killer whales at SeaWorld die in their teens and twenties, sometimes under abnormal circumstances.
IN “HUMAN CARE”
- Trainers routinely stuff the gills of fish with antibiotics, antacids and vitamins, and inject them with fresh water, because freezing, storing, thawing and processing fish reduces its nutritional value and fresh water content and stress is a constant concern.
- Some orcas are given up to 80 pounds of gelatin per day in part to combat dehydration.
- Some killer whales break and wear down their teeth on metal gates and must have the pulp removed with a power drill. Teeth then must be flushed several times daily to prevent food from causing deadly bacterial infections.
- One whale was filmed lashing out aggressively in response to trainers trying to jam a wooden block in his mouth in order to control him while performing an endoscopy.
- There are no records at any time in history of wild orcas seriously injuring or killing a person.
- Around 15% of all orcas held in SeaWorld’s collection have been involved in acts of serious aggression against trainers, a dismal safety record that would never be tolerated in other industries.
- Orcas at SeaWorld have lunged at trainers, pulled them in the water, held them at the bottom of the pool, head-butted them, slammed them with tail flukes and breached on top of them.
- The 12,000 pound Tilikum – the world’s largest captive predator – killed Canadian trainer Keltie Byrne in 1991, surgically opened the scrotum of Daniel Dukes, a man who snuck into the tank in 1999 but did not make it out, and brutally killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
- Brancheau’s death was more grisly than most realize: part of her arm was torn off, her scalp was ripped away, her sternum was crushed and her liver was lacerated. This was a purposeful killing.
- Two months before Brancheau died, trainer Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque in Spain was violently rammed and killed by Keto, an orca on loan from SeaWorld.
TILIKUM AND DAWN BRANCHEAU
- SeaWorld routinely allowed its most senior trainers to put themselves in extremely vulnerable positions with Tilikum, even though he had already been involved in the death of two people.
- Some SeaWorld defenders said the incident was Dawn’s fault and she should never have been in such a vulnerable position. But several SeaWorld witnesses at the hearing to overturn the OSHA violation testified that Dawn did not break protocol that day.
- Despite the clear danger of being in shallow water so close to Tilikum, SeaWorld to this day considers what Dawn was doing when she died to be “dry work” instead of “water work.”
- SeaWorld had been clearly warned of the risks in allowing water work. Following a serious incident at SeaWorld San Diego in 2006 in which a trainer nearly drowned, the California state OSHA wrote: “If someone hasn’t been killed already, it is only a matter of time before it does happen.”
- SeaWorld successfully exerted its considerable political influence to have the death warning redacted from the final report that was issued in 2007.
SEAWORLD’S DISREGARD FOR EMPLOYEES’ SAFETY
- Two former employees filed sworn affidavits alleging that SeaWorld hid or destroyed documents sought by federal agents in the investigation of Brancheau’s death, and tried to impede other parts of the investigation. (Both whistleblowers subsequently retracted their allegations within a short period of time of each other.)
- One of the whistleblowers alleged that senior male trainers at Shamu Stadium had sexually harassed female trainers, asking for sexual favors in exchange for more “water time” with the whales. When asked about the matter, SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs did not deny the allegations.
- SeaWorld was the subject of a lengthy audit and investigation by the US Department of Labor over unfair hiring practices. Government inspectors asserted that more than 1000 qualified African-American and Hispanic applicants had been turned down for employment.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited SeaWorld for a “willful” violation of the law in the Brancheau incident and said the company had acted with plain indifference to employee safety.
- SeaWorld will likely challenge any negative ruling from its appeal to the OSHA violation, which would send the case to Washington, DC, where the ongoing process would pit SeaWorld’s owner, The Blackstone Group, against US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Blackstone’s CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, is an influential supporter of Mitt Romney and once compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler.
ORCA CONSERVATION & SCIENCE
- Contrary to popular belief, SeaWorld conducts only limited scientific research on killer whales in its collection, and does very little to directly impact wild orca habitat.
- A careful review of the published, peer-reviewed literature shows that most studies done on SeaWorld’s orcas pertain to the husbandry of captive animals, with little benefit for those in the ocean.
- SeaWorld does not appear to be active in saving the threatened and endangered orcas of the Pacific Northwest or the wild salmon on which they depend.
BREEDING & INBREEDING
- SeaWorld’s vaunted orca breeding program has created a legacy of captive killer whales who are closely related to each other in a way that would not happen in the wild.
- Today many of Tilikum’s descendants are being bred with each other.
- In one case, a young male was allowed to impregnate his own mother, something that is as socially taboo in wild whales as it is in most human societies.
- Most captive-bred orcas at SeaWorld are unnatural hybrids – bizarre mixtures of blood from fish-eating resident whales and mammal eating transient whales from the Pacific, and Icelandic whales from the North Atlantic.
NO EARLY RETIREMENT
- Unlike most other animals that generate profit through entertaining humans, killer whales at SeaWorld and other venues are never allowed to retire. They work literally until they die.
- Six killer whales in US parks were captured from the wild, the last survivors of captures that ended in the 1980s, but their owners refuse to consider allowing them to retire to a sea pen or coastal marine sanctuary where they could be looked after and fed for their remaining years.