Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Blackfish DVD Extras

Welcome to Voice of the Orcas blog. If you've found your way here from the Blackfish DVD, you're in the right spot. There are 8 great new interviews that supplement the movie, including one with Gabriela Cowperthaite, the films director, and Dr. Naomi Rose, a leading killer whale expert. 

Gabriela has a new interview on the movie DVD 
Below are three of the papers linked to in the DVD extras, and other supplemental material that help to shed light on the practice of keeping killer whales (Orcinus orca) in concrete enclosures for profit. This practice will end at some point, and our goal is to get information out and accelerate the process. 

To dig in deeper, please consider visiting our primary website, which has a more robust collection of Q&A videos, photos & a science page with dozens of references and links. 

All of the material below can be downloaded and printed. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

OSHA Calls SeaWorld Unsafe in Official Legal Document

The following is copied directly from the  Legal Brief Filed by OSHA 


US Court of Appeals 
District of Columbia 
OSHA's Legal Brief vs SeaWorld 
Beginning 12 November 2013 

Incidents Occurred Regularly for Twenty Years Despite 
SeaWorld’s Efforts to Prevent Them

SeaWorld’s argument that its safety protocols and operant conditioning program provide sufficient protection to its employees is disproven by the 600 pages of incident reports documenting unanticipated and undesirable killer whale behavior with trainers. The reports describe some 100 occurrences of killer whales biting, hitting, lunging toward, pulling on, pinning, dragging, and aggressively swimming over SeaWorld trainers. SeaWorld claims the frequency of such incidents has tapered off over time, but there have been incidents every year but two since 1988, culminating in trainer deaths in 2009 and 2010.

The incident reports not only document harmful killer whale behavior, but also show that, time after time, SeaWorld had no explanation for why an incident occurred and was ineffective at preventing similar or even identical behavior from happening again. Although not all incidents resulted in serious injury, a number were chillingly similar to incidents with less happy endings. One example of whale aggression that continued regularly over twenty years is whales grabbing trainers’ feet or legs, often pulling them into or under the water.

Operant Conditioning Does Not Keep Trainers Safe

SeaWorld depends almost exclusively on operant conditioning to ensure safe

interactions with its captive killer whales. As the implementers of operant conditioning, trainers are thus responsible for their own safety and are “the primary source of management’s knowledge.

Through operant conditioning, trainers are expected to recognize precursors to aggressive or

unwanted behavior and to respond appropriately, whatever that may mean (when presented with unexpected behavior by a killer whale, “the trainer has to make a judgment there on the spot as to how to deal with a new scenario.”).

Unfortunately, operant conditioning is an imperfect system. It has 2 major flaws:

1. Killer whales do unpredictable things and 
2. Trainers make mistakes

These facts are amply documented in the incident reports. Examples include:

A: “I think this is one of those situations where we will never quite understand the intent of [the whale’s] movement. I cannot rule out that it was done either on purpose or by accident. I think we have learned our lesson of our unpredictability of our animals even in the best of situations.”
B. “Knootka is a very unpredictable whale.”
C. “Because [the whale’s] never done anything like this, no one was expectingit.”

D. “As evident by this episode, our whales should never been [sic] viewed as routine, nor predictable.”

E. “I am still very confused that mistakes like this can be made by our senior trainers.”

F. “[The trainer] put himself in a very compromising situation.”

G. “[The trainer] should never have attempted to get out of the water while the whale still had a hold of her sock.”

SeaWorld argues that it learns from each incident and attempts to prevent similar

recurrences.  However, as the incident reports demonstrate, SeaWorld is not as successful as it purports to be in preventing recurrences of dangerous killer whale behavior. In addition, SeaWorld’s “learn as you go” approach means that trainers are continually at risk from novel or unanticipated whale behaviors.

SeaWorld appears proud of the fact that its employees “controlled their own exposure to the alleged hazards,” calling this a “culture of empowerment.” However, placing the responsibility for employee safety on the employees themselves is, as the ALJ correctly pointed out, in contravention of the OSH Act. “An employer cannot shift [OSH Act] responsibility to  its employees by relying on them to, in effect, determine whether the conditions under

which they are working are unsafe.” ("Final responsibility for compliance with the requirements of this act remains with the employer.”).

Likewise, the fact that some employees “testified that they felt safe” does not mean that they were safe. “The particular views of work[ers] are not necessarily, and often times are not the best determination as to what is safe and what is unsafe.”

Finally, SeaWorld contends that it cannot be held responsible for mitigation of the hazard posed by close contact with killer whales because all of the potential harm to its employees comes from “exceptional and unpredictable whale behavior.”

 SeaWorld even suggests that Ms. Brancheau’s death was beyond the company’s control. (“SeaWorld could not have predicted this terrible incident”). 

But the whole point is that SeaWorld knows killer whale behavior is unpredictable. Given the known unpredictability of killer whale behavior and the record of past incidents, it was entirely foreseeable that an event like Dawn Brancheau’s death could occur. That Tilikum attacked Ms. Brancheau without providing the “precursors” SeaWorld relies on shows the failure of operant 
conditioning to keep trainers safe; it does not render Ms. Brancheau’s death – or the hazard of close contact with killer whales – unpreventable.

SeaWorld’s Emergency Procedures Do Not Keep Trainers Safe

The second major failing in SeaWorld’s operant conditioning program is

that the emergency rescue procedures meant to “recall” or distract a whale from
dangerous behavior have proven to be grossly inadequate. The incident reports
document at least seventeen instances, dating to 1989, where killer whales ignored
attempts to “recall” them from unwanted behavior.

Most recently, recall attempts were useless in the deaths of both Alexis Martinez and

Dawn Brancheau. SeaWorld’s emergency procedures are contained in its “Animal Training
SOP.” When an emergency occurs, trainers are to sound a siren, after which “the senior ranking trainer should attempt to establish control of animal(s) in the environment with recall stimuli.” These “recall stimuli,” which SeaWorld has been using at least since the late 1980s, include trainers slapping the water and the sound of “recall tones.”  The killer whales are supposed to respond to these signals by “calmly swimming to [the] stage.”

As the incident reports recount, however, and as SeaWorld employees admitted at the hearing, these procedures are ineffective in most serious emergencies. Kelly Flaherty Clark admitted that both a recall tone and recall slaps were attempted when Dawn Brancheau was in the water with Tilikum; she also admitted that there was no expectation that they would work. 

Brian Rokeach agreed: 
Q: So, Sea World knows from experience that emergency callback procedures performed while the whale is in a heightened state, if you will, will rarely succeed in getting the whale tocome back? 
A: I guess – I’m sorry, there hasn’t been a lot of success in that specific scenario.

In an incident in 2004, killer whale Kyuquot repeatedly swam over trainer Steve Aibel. Mr. Aibel wrote: “[The whale] blocked my exit from the pool and sat in front of me. I asked for a recall tone and paired it with a point to control. There [sic] were both ignored. There were two more recall tones and three or four more hand slaps. All were ignored.” Ex. C-6 at 749. Indeed, SeaWorld staff apparently decided later that these recall tones and hand slaps did nothing but agitate the
whale further.

One (unidentified) SeaWorld commenter observed, “Let’s face it, in these types of incidents, I don’t recall any whale responding to any hand slap, food bucket, or any other distraction we tried to implement.”

SeaWorld continued to use recall tones and hand slaps for more than twenty years even though such techniques were demonstrably unable to keep trainers safe. As the ALJ found, “[d]espite the repeated failures of the recall signals, SeaWorld continued to rely on them to protect its employees.” 
In short: Two killer whales trained under SeaWorld’s operant conditioning program killed two trainers two months apart. Under these circumstances it cannot be said that SeaWorld’s training program has reduced the recognized hazard to a significant degree. It clearly did
not eliminate the recognized hazard. The Secretary has established SeaWorld’s safety training program, both for killer whales and for its trainers, is inadequate as a means of feasible abatement.

This factual finding is supported by substantial evidence and should not be disturbed by the Court.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Animal Justice Advocates Diving Deeper with Death at SeaWorld Book

In a recent article at Psychology Today, scientific writer, biologist, and mother, Rachel Clark referred to David Kirby's book Death at SeaWorld as a "Bellwether." Wikipedia defines a bellwether as: 

Any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings. The term is derived from the Middle Englishbellewether, and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a... ram (a wether) leading his flock of sheep. The movements of the flock could be noted by hearing the bell before the flock was in sight.

Two of the protagonists in Death at SeaWorld are Ex SeaWorld Trainer Carol Ray & Killer Whale Expert Naomi Rose PhD

In Rachel's words:
"I knew when I read Death at SeaWorld last summer that this book was about much more than killer whales. It was about our society, how it’s structured, and the systems we have in place that allow, and even encourage, brutalization of animals, people and the Earth…legal and corporate systems that continue to foster climate change and other instances of severe deterioration of our natural systems.

What I didn’t know, then, was that Death at SeaWorld was a bellwether, one of the first in this particular upheaval (see also Blood in the Water in Outside Magazine by journalist and Blackfish co-producer, Tim Zimmermann). Now, Blackfish is further advancing this powerful shift to a societal awakening, and to incontrovertible demands for justice."

Death at SeaWorld  is a "Bellwether" 

Due in part to the success of Gabriela Cowperthwaite's film Blackfish, and also to the broadening demographic of informed citizens, Death at SeaWorld is getting into the hands, and minds, of more and more people. And that's a good thing for all small cetaceans, wild & captive. 

Below, see what other readers are now saying about Death at SeaWorld, at "Goodreads." There is also a video featuring Dr. Naomi Rose, called, "The Real SeaWorld" and a video of the Southern Resident orcas.  Lastly, a live Twitter feed has been embedded here that tracks the hashtag




Recent Reviews of Death at SeaWorld

These are published at Goodreads HERE:

I never knew I had an opinion on whale captivity. I was horrified at the death of the trainer at Sea World and believed it's just common sense not to hang out with killer whales. After watching the movie Blackfish recently, I was struck by the seemingly deep emotions experienced by the whales when they were captured, both by the pod members still at Sea and those taken away. I needed to know more. I know more now but this is a decidedly one sided picture as Sea World did not participate. Kirby p...more

One of the best books I have read. Everyone should pick up this book because its such an eye opener. It is very well written and interesting enough that you won't want to but it down. Prior to reading this book the documentary The Cove had put me off ever visiting Seaworld and/or other marine parks. After read this I will whole-heartily encourage others not to step foot in any Seaworld parks until they stop the shows and return eligible whales back to the sea. I remember when I was little I want...more

I read Death at Sea World knowing I would leave haunted and wanting to do more than read. he thought even passed my mind, "How much better the world might be without our grand ideas." I had little idea how the "70 cents of every dollar" that each Shamu makes for Sea World -- they're all named that, since most die or become unmanageable so quickly -- drives the decision-making and the frequently successful lobbying efforts of Sea World. I've become an advocate of gradually letting each re-learn t...more

Elizabeth rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: activismfavorites
I was actually really skeptical about this book when I first got it. It looked interesting but I thought it would be really dry. It starts off with basic orca biology and goes through the history of orca captures, early captivity and current captivity. The author interviewed the scientist in charge of marine mammal captivity at HSUS and former trainers. It definitely has an anti captivity bias but I think it comes at it from the correct angle. The incident with Dawn B was actually a very small p...more

"The Real Sea World" 

Brendon Schrodinger
'Death at Seaworld' is a fascinating and meticulously researched work that centres upon the death of a killer whale trainer at the U.S. theme park in 2010. However the work also takes on the entire history of the captivity of these whales, as well as research undertaken in the wild.
What you get to read may be argued as one-sided as it argues strictly against the captivity of killer whales, but with the evidence presented, there is no other conclusion that could be reached. It does essentially co...more

Just read it. Death at Seaworld deals with a subject I am very passionate about: whales and dolphins in captivity. Primarily orcas in this book. I've been against captive whales and dolphins for a lob time, an this book has just fuelled my passionate dislike about corporations such as Seaworld.
I could rant and rage about how they make these beautiful intelligent animals perform cheap circus tricks in order for their food, and how captivity is seriously detrimental to whales health: both physica...more

"Voice of the Orcas"