A former SeaWorld employee is alleging that poor safety practices led to a trainer's drowning — but a congressman is coming to the park's defense. How many people have to die before we stop seeing killer whales as entertainment?
According to the Daily News, SeaWorld's former safety chief Linda Simons says the park's "gross negligence" led to the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was dragged underwater, scalped, and drowned by killer whale Tilikum back in February. Simons says a safety drill held a week before the drowning went so badly that the park scheduled a do-over — but Brancheau died before it could be completed. She also claims that the park has stymied an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation into the death by withholding documents and barring interviews with trainers. But SeaWorld says she's extorting them: "the threat of negative publicity to seek a sizable monetary payment from SeaWorld in exchange for her not going public with these false allegations." And Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) has called OSHA on SeaWorld's behalf, stressing its benefits to his state. He says, "the economic impact of SeaWorld is tremendous. SeaWorld Orlando attracts 6 million visitors, including my five children."
But should those 6 million visitors really be watching killer whale shows in the first place? Tilikum had killed two trainers before Brancheau's death, and Simons says "the whale was considered so dangerous that new workers were routinely warned that anyone who entered his pool would 'come out a corpse.'" Yet the park continued to allow him to perform — and to let Brancheau play with him like "her puppy dog." And whale shows resumed just three days after her death. It seems that SeaWorld doesn't understand that its stars are called "killer" for a reason.
Killer whales are used to hunting in pods of up to forty, sometimes "grab[bing] seals right off the ice" — not performing in tanks with humans while thousands of other humans look on. Frankly, it's no wonder that in these unnatural conditions, they sometimes flip out. I don't always agree with PETA, but in this case spokesman Bryan Wilson is right on: "As long as these animals are living stressful lives at parks like SeaWorld, it's just a matter of time before it happens again." SeaWorld needs to realize that giant ocean predators aren't made for fun and games — before more people die.