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Is It Time for SeaWorld To Move Away From the Whale Business?

An article published by Courthouse News Service on Monday reports that SeaWorld’s three year fight with OSHA will continue. Three whale trainers who were issued administrative subpoenas after a follow-up inspection by OSHA in December will now be forced to comply as ordered by US District Judge Roy Dalton.

OSHA first cited SeaWorld following the death of Dawn Brancheau on February 24, 2010 for a Willful violation to the general duty clause for exposing trainers to dangers when working with the whales. Other violations were also cited. Trainers immediately suspended “waterwork” during show performances, yet they have continued to maintain close contact to the whales during “drywork”.

In July 2012, the Willful citation was changed to Serious for unprotected trainer contact with Tilikum (the whale responsible for Brancheau’s death) and inadequate trainer contact with the other whales at the park. The proposed abatement stated that SeaWorld would either install physical barriers between the trainers and the whales, or trainers would be required to maintain a minimal distance from the whales. SeaWorld petitioned to modify the abatement date, stating they needed more time to correct the violations.

In months that followed, SeaWorld trainers openly remained in close proximity, petting and kissing the whales, with no barriers in place. At a follow-up inspection, OSHA issued the administrative subpoenas to three current trainers who insisted they would not give testimony. In December 2012, the US Department of Labor petitioned the court to enforce the subpoenas, now ordered to occur.


(Photo taken by Ocean Advocate News on March 3, 2013)

SeaWorld is currently appealing the violations to D.C. Circuit and the petition to modify the abatement date is still pending. They claim they have not had enough time to put new practices in place, yet over three years after the incident no visible changes have been being attempted.

In December 2012 SeaWorld also filed for a US IPO (Initial Public Offering) for $100 million placeholder amount. Monday, according to Bloomberg, the amount of public offering it plans to raise was increased to $500 million. Blackstone Group LC, the park owner, plans to move ahead with the IPO as soon as later this month.

SeaWorld continues to strongly promote the opening of Antarctica: Emperor of the Penguins in late May. With the opening of Antarctic and last year’s Turtle Trek, along with the highly successful Manta, they have increased profits by over 300% in the past year. This was accomplished without trainers getting in the water with the whales, which begs to question: Is it time to phase out the whales completely?

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