Not a good year for the big business of dolphins.
A New Beginning for Dolphins
Part Three of “Dolphins and Us”
A New Beginning for Dolphins
Could Tilikum Also Be Set Free?
Making the Case
Is SeaWorld on the Ropes?
In the World Spotlight
SeaWorld Testifies before Congress
How You Can Help
Interviews & Reports
The Case for Dolphin Rights
When the Watchdog is Just a Guard Dog
Communion in the Wild
The year 2010 may go down in history as the time when the tide began to turn against SeaWorld.
It began when one of their prize orcas, Tilikum, went crazy, grabbed his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, by the hair, dragged her into his pool, drowned her and savaged her body. It was shocking, horrible, and entirely to be expected. Tilikum had killed before. Twice. Other orcas had also killed or injured their trainers. The only surprise, really, was that Tilikum, who was becoming increasingly depressed and agitated living in a tank at SeaWorld Orlando, was continuing to show restraint. These so-called “killer whales,” who have never been known to hurt a human in the ocean, have shown patience beyond compare in their lives as slaves to the entertainment industry. But even orcas have a limit – just as humans do. And Tilikum finally snapped.
SeaWorld went into major damage control mode, wheeling out its PR people, along with the usual tired TV faces like Jack Hanna, from the zoo industry, to try to explain away what had happened and to vilify anyone who stepped forward to tell a less-than-positive story about life at SeaWorld.
One of those, Linda Simons, a former health and safety director at SeaWorld, told Good Morning America that SeaWorld had repeatedly refused to turn over records that chronicled the aggression histories of its orcas – records that had been requested by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) in its investigation into the death of Ms. Brancheau.
OSHA’s report, delivered in August, condemned SeaWorld for its lack of safeguards and the company agreed to pay a fine of $75,000. The amount was a pittance in light of its 2009 revenue of $1.4 billion, but the report was damaging and the company launched a multi-million-dollar media campaign with a TV spot showing its employees helping wildlife, including turtles, pelicans and sea lions, and working to rehabilitate animals suffering from the BP Gulf oil spill.
More dolphins die at SeaWorld
Meanwhile, orcas were themselves dying in larger numbers than usual at SeaWorld facilities around the country.
In June, Taima died at SeaWorld Orlando while giving birth to a calf. The calf was also born dead.
Two months later, Sumar, a 12-year-old male orca died at SeaWorld San Diego under what the company called “unexpected” and “mysterious” circumstances. (See our report on this here.)
And then another female, Kalina, died suddenly in her tank at the Orlando facility. Kalina was the 24th orca to die prematurely at SeaWorld in 25 years.
In each case, SeaWorld called the deaths “unexpected” and said how much the human “families” of the orcas mourned their deaths.
Except that these people were never the real families of these orcas. Their true families had long ago been torn apart by SeaWorld and its suppliers. And there was nothing mysterious or unexpected about how and why they died.
(Read more about Sumar, Taimi and Tilikum, how they’re related, and what really happened to Sumar here.)