Today, Sea World returns to court to appeal the OSHA ruling earlier this year stating that trainers are no longer allowed in the tank with killer whales without some sort of barrier. The decision is a result of the death of Dawn Brancheau, a trainer who was killed at the Dine With Shamu dinner show after Tilikum, the killer whale, pulled her under and drowned her.
The movie Blackfish has gotten even more national attention recently, as CNN obtained the rights to air it on cable television and made the movie accessible to millions who wouldn’t have otherwise seen it. Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, the killer whale that killed Dawn in February 2010. The movie paints a picture that Tilikum was a ticking time bomb because of it’s tortured past and was just looking for an excuse to snap.
Regardless of what the filmmakers claim, the movie does have an agenda and is incredibly one-sided. Do I believe all of the evidence provided in the documentary to be true? Sure, but they were extremely careful with which facts to show and certain other valid points in Sea World’s defense were intentionally left on the cutting room floor.
In no way am I making light of Dawn’s death. It is a horrible tragedy. I am sure that thanks to movies like Blackfish and constant media coverage, it has been made far worse (and yes, even websites like mine). They have poured salt into the wound by rehashing and dissecting what Sea World could have done to prevent this and even if killer whales or any animal should be kept in captivity at all.
The captivity argument may be a moral one that, as a society, we chase our own tails over until the end of time. However, in this particular case, it matters not. The courts are not making any kind of decision on animals being held in captivity at all. Personally, I think holding animals in captivity is fine as long as their living conditions and treatment are humane.
Sea World is going to court claiming that the OSHA ruling forces them to change the fundamental nature of their business. The park claims that it would be like Nascar drivers limiting their speed or forbidding tackling in the NFL. For better or worse, Sea World has raised the public awareness on how amazing these magnificent creatures are. However, do people pay those crazy ticket prices to see the trainers in the water with the killer whales? Or are they satisfied with simply watching them do flips in the water and splashing the audience, thus allowing Sea World to sell more beach towels and ponchos?
In 2012, all three Sea World parks in the US saw a 3% attendance increase in the two years after trainers have not been allowed in the water. Granted, the parks have spent a lot of capital on new attractions, which is most likely the reason why attendance saw a small spike. The point is that it doesn’t seem like the business is suffering because of the decision.
Does it make for a better show to see the trainers ride the back of a killer whale and do back flips into a giant tank? Most guests would probably say yes, the show is more entertaining when you see man and beast interact. However, it’s clearly not a requirement to the show’s success.
What I fail to understand is why OSHA doesn’t come down on Ringling Brothers. If their performers are allowed within striking distance of an animal that could kill them, how can they perform even half of their show? Animal trainers are in the cages with live tigers, sometimes seven or eight at a time. It’s even okay for them to stick their head in one of their mouths to show how much control and power they have over the beasts.
And what about parks like Gatorland? One can easily claim that their attendance would drop if they eliminated their famous alligator wrestling shows where a “trained professional” jumps into a sand pit with a live gator. The show’s finale is when they wrestle a gator to the ground and hold his jaws open so they can stick their head on it’s snout while nearly escaping death… at least three times a day.
So where is the consistency, OSHA? Why does it take the death of one individual to make sure that one particular type of animal kept in captivity is more dangerous than all the rest? While I do think OSHA is looking out for the well-being of Sea World’s trainers in their own extremely narrow minded way, I don’t understand why only this type of animal in this specific environment is being targeted. Does it take a death from someone at Gatorland to have restrictions put on them too?
By no means am I wishing harm or death to anyone who works with dangerous animals for entertainment purposes, but does OSHA really not understand how narrow minded the ruling is? Do the judges think that no one who takes a job with a dangerous animal doesn’t understand the inherent danger that’s involved when they fill out the application? Furthermore, do they think that Sea World, Gatorland or Ringling Brothers wouldn’t give their employees the best possible training to avoid a fatal accident?
Here’s hoping that the judges make a ruling that has more common sense on the appeal than they did on the original case. Sea World doesn’t deserve the treatment they have received. The trainers who work at the Shamu show have been itching to get back in the water for quite some time now. I can’t wait to see how this pans out.