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SeaWorld Issues List of Excuses at PMA Extension Hearing

SeaWorld claims that they have a current 3 ft. distance protocol for kneeling with whales. This photo, taken on April 16, clearly shows a trainer closer than 3ft.

SeaWorld and OSHA went at it again yesterday to decide if the Petition for Modification of Abatement Date (PMA) should be extended for a 6 month request.

OSHA insists that SeaWorld must prove that factors were beyond their control in order to extend the PMA. They said the PMA was denied because the employees are not protected. Bottom line!

SeaWorld claimed the reason they needed more time was because it took time to consult with outside experts. They said that in the interim they set up a 3 ft rule, but trainers said it was too difficult to feed the whales at 3 ft, so it was changed to 18 inches. The 3 ft. rule remained in place if the trainer was kneeling.

SeaWorld claims that they finalized these protocols in December and met with outside consultants in January.

So, who are these experts?

Terri Corbett – VP of Atlantis in the Bahamas (Atlantis does not have killer whales)

Bill Hurley – General Curator at Georgia Aquarium (Georgia Aquarium has no killer whales)

SeaWorld states that another reason for the delay to put the current protocols into place was because they listened to trainer and expert feedback to make ongoing modifications. They feel that the interim measures safeguarded employees because the trainers “felt and remained safe”. SeaWorld did not approach any consultants until September after the petition to Abate in July.

SeaWorld devised a list of 26 safety measures that became a “living document” which was in place at the time of the PMA. They are not willing to make this document public, so ultimately nobody knows where or not it is being followed. The judge agreed to only a temporarily seal, but asked SeaWorld to draft a Limited Protective Order within 2 weeks.

Since then, SeaWorld has put a 6 page document into place stating they have added more specific and enforceable language. According to SeaWorld, this document was NOT put into place because of OSHA but only to keep the trainers safe.

OSHA questioned SeaWorld about trainer safety specifically when whales turn 360 degrees on the slideout in a break move. SeaWorld stated that they have never seen a whale perform that behavior without being asked. They state that it takes a lot of effort for whales to do that behavior, including the whale moving it’s tail fluke up and down.

SeaWorld showed a video of a small part of One Ocean show from October while maintaining their “safe distance” which clearly shows a dance sequence on the slideout with a whale moving its fluke up and down. SeaWorld stated that the video was only showing interim measures. The video did not show any touching or kneeling that is happening today.

The video below was taken on April 16. The whale's tail fluke is moving up and down as, according to SeaWorld, would need to happen in order for a whale to do a 360 Break move. In the meantime, the trainer appears dangerously close.

SeaWorld maintains the stance that the current protocols of distance prevent the whales from grabbing or hitting the trainers allowing trainers time to move away if a whale moves. They claim that a whale does not move as quickly out of the water. (Perhaps they have never seen video of whales hunting on a beach.) They say trainers don’t have to approach a whale if they don’t want to “unless conditions are optimal”. Optimal is defined by the whale’s compliance during a line-up prior to the show.

OSHA does not approve the abatement. They expected that in the interim, while waiting for external sources, SeaWorld would apply the same separate protocols for Tilikum to all whales. The current burden on trainers to make decisions is too great. Just because something hasn’t happened doesn’t mean something won’t. With exposure to the whales, there is still potential for additional injury.

SeaWorld stated that it would not be possible to do a show if the procedures for Tilikum were in place for all whales. The park continues to choose profit over safety.

Overall, there have been no distinct changes to protocols in the past 6 months, and current protocols are still not enough to keep trainers safe. Trainers will never be guaranteed 100% safe until there is no contact.

For now, SeaWorld was given two weeks to write the Limited Protective Order on the 26 protocols, then the post-hearing briefs will be due 30 days later. Although Judge Welsch requested that the case be handled expeditiously, SeaWorld didn't feel that was necessary.

Stay tuned…

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