’If you end up in the water with Tilikum, you’re going to die’
Today, we learned about the “Tilly Talk” that’s given to all new orca trainers at SeaWorld Orlando. The key message of this talk: “If you end up in the water with Tilikum, you’re going to die.”
The Tilly Talk was cited by Les Grove, the regional director for OSHA, who led the investigation of SeaWorld after the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. This led to OSHA citing SeaWorld with its most serious charge” “willful violation,” meaning that the company showed “plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.”
Grove also cited the SeaWorld employee manual, which requires killer whale trainers to sign a statement acknowledging the “calculated risk.” He said the company was aware of numerous instances of deaths, injuries and close calls involving orcas like Tilikum. Documents and interviews showed the company was clearly aware of the danger of allowing trainers to work in close contact with killer whales yet still allowed the interactions to continue.
Another witness, David Duffus, testified that he had led the investigation into the death of trainer Keltie Byrne at Sealand of the Pacific in 1991. The 20-year-old had slipped into the killer whale pen and was drowned by Tilikum and two other orcas. They held onto her, he said, for 90 minutes. Shortly after, Tilikum was sent to SeaWorld Orlando.
“Twenty years later, a lot has been done, yet I’m reading the same outcome,” said Duffus, an associate professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. There’s “no way on earth,” he added, that he would place himself in close contact with Tilikum.
The hearing was expected to last just a week, but much testimony yet to be heard, the judge adjourned the proceedings until they can be reconvened in November.
Later in the day, SeaWorld issued a press release describing their good work with orphaned and injured marine mammals, saying that the multi-billion-dollar company has contributed $50 million to conservation, wildlife rescue and environmental stewardship initiatives.