Bring Back The Waterworks at SeaWorld

Waterworks help stimulate the whales' everyday needs as well as, develop strong relationships with their trainers.

Since Dawn’s death last February, OSHA (U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has fined SeaWorld for “willful endangerment” of trainers who work with killer whales in SeaWorld’s animal collection by performing waterworks tasks with them. Despite being the first death in SeaWorld’s 4 decade history (though there had been similar accidents with killer whales at other marine life facilities), OSHA now wants the trainers to no longer perform waterworks with their killer whales at all. OSHA’s citations on SeaWorld is completely unfounded and reports that accompanies these citations contain numerous errors such as details and events that led up to the accident. This also includes the number of witnesses as well.  OSHA itself has failed to cite and regulate other risky professions too. I believe for OSHA, citing SeaWorld over Dawn’s death was simply a way to seek the media-grabbing political ploy by a government agency in an attempt to justify its existence. To make matters worst, OSHA staffers virtually have no experience working with captive animals.  This has been noted back with a 2006 inspection on SeaWorld San Diego following an accident that took place  there when OSHA admitted to it’s lack of expertise to properly assess the working conditions there.

Why is Waterworks important for the killer whales?

Trainers virtually know the risks of working with such large animals like killer whales. However, this is what keeps them going with what they love.

To maintain close relationships with their killer whales, SeaWorld trainers spent the majority of their work time( beside hourly observation, food prep, and regular dry-work training and husbandry sessions) being in the water with them. These in-water interactions not only helped build strong trusts between trainer and whale, but it also stimulated them. Another benefit from waterworks is that some medical examinations require both trainers and vets to have very close contact with the animals in order to take good care of them and ensure that they are healthy. Yet, upon the citation, OSHA has chosen to alter both SeaWorld operating and animal care practices in the name of “employment safety”. As a result, without close contact of any kind, the whales will suffer as indicated by the sudden death of a middle-aged killer whale named Kalina in October 2010. Many believe that this death could have been prevented if SeaWorld staff were allowed to monitor animal health based on their own animal care guidelines, which is now, under OSHA’s de-facto control. If a judge were to rule in OSHA’s favor during an up-coming hearing on the matter this month, then SeaWorld would not be the only zoological facility to suffer from this citation, other zoos and aquariums with large animals like elephants, big cats, apes, and and rhinos would suffer with SeaWorld. This would also include veterinarians, who could be prevented from properly examining domesticated animals such as cats and dogs and sick stranded marine animals such as dolphins, and sea turtles as a precedent.

Without the trainers performing in the water with the whales, attendance at SeaWorld will drop. This will not only be detrimental to the local economies, but also place financial restrictions on SeaWorld's research and rescue operations.

What do SeaWorld and other zoo and aquarium patrons, like myself want to see come out of this month’s OSHA hearing on SeaWorld….

1) Have OSHA’s citation of SeaWorld for “willful endangerment” be reversed, overturned, or overruled.

2) Pass federal legislation aimed at reforming OSHA by restricting OSHA’s ability to regulate professions that involve contact with animals.

3) Establish a waver system, in which employees whose jobs are altered by OSHA rulings could voluntarily opt-out of the ruling and continue to perform their jobs under pre-OSHA ruling conditions.

4) Launch a federal inquiry and investigation into OSHA, OSHA director David Michaels, and OSHA investigators involved in the SeaWorld citation for potential abuse of power, by singling out SeaWorld with excessive penalties.

If you want to see trainers back in the water with their killer whales:

Please sign the petition at: (Big thanks to Alberto Branado for creating this petiton)

Sample letter to write to lawmakers, ambassadors, and the president:

Learn more about benefits of waterworks with killer whales at SeaWorld through Stephanie Tracey’s interesting essay on this topic (great essay Stephanie!):


2 thoughts on “Bring Back The Waterworks at SeaWorld

  1. Did you know that Sea World at one time had a couple of Orcas [ Killer Whales ] in their public access petting pool in California? It’s true. I was going to college at the time and got to know them on my own from outside the training culture. A total of four young Orcas [ 2M and 2F ] were cycled through the tank in pairs. Here is one of them.

    I did not use food to trick them over. I simply spent a lot of time at the tank waiting for them to come over on their own to check me out. Once they got to know me and mutual trust was established, they allowed me to do things like the above picture shows.

    What has changed since that time to the present? Was Sea World risking the public by putting Orcas in such an open access display? Is it the decades living in a cement swimming pool compared to the open ocean that has made them aggressive? Is it the fact that the humans disappear at night and return in the morning which upsets the cetaceans cultural norms? Separation in the open ocean usually means death.

    Of the four Orcas I got to know, two are still alive :

    SWC-00-7801 – Kotar – male
    SWC-00-7804 – Kasatka – female
    SWC-00-7806 – Katina – female
    SWC-00-7705 – Canuck 2 – male

    Interestingly enough, it is the two females, one in California and one in Florida who now lead their respective pods. I wonder if they would remember me after all this time. My research has not found any public record of any communication attempts with orcas, only bottle nose dolphins. I feel it is time to “step up the game” and try communicating with the Orcas, who are the largest dolphin, Flipper’s big brother if you will.

    I think it’s long past time that we started.

    I am not now nor ever have been a trainer or employed by facility that has cetaceans. I simply was willing to spend time getting to know them, building a relationship with them. Showing them my trust in them that they would not hurt me and in turn being showed that I was trusted by being allowed to do things like a pec rub or having them lay their flukes in my arms for a rub down. I made mistakes along the way and have scars to show for it. It was a learning experience for both of us. They tested me often and I was able to teach them about how fragile humans are compared to them. When one grabbed an arm up to the elbow in his mouth testing my trust, I was able to teach him how much pressure I could stand and what level I was comfortable with. Afterwards I was never grabbed harder than the comfort level I had established, by *any* of them, so they obviously were able to exchange this information amount themselves. On their records are listed several times where Katina and Kasatka have ‘mouthed’ a body part of a trainer for various reasons. It’s a good thing I taught them about human frailty when I did or it could have been bad for the trainer. Or it shows considerable intelligent restraint on their part.

    Cetaceans are intelligent and do have a language. I’ve been involved in three different interspecies communications projects in my life, and have many hundreds of hours of hands on experience with them. I’ve swum with both wild and captive dolphins. All were successful to some degree and within the limits of what was trying to be done.

    What is really needed is communication, to be able to converse with this intelligence and learn more about it.

    The problem is *frequency* not language.

    The majority of their vocal range [ up to 250 Khz for some species ] is above the human hearing range [ tops out at 20-22 Khz ]. Humans are simply not designed to hear what Cetaceans are saying. Because of this some technology, i.e. computers, are required for effective and useful communication to take place. Back on JANUS, the computers being used then [ 1985 ], a DEC PDP-11 and two Apple II+s as terminals were simply not up to the task of analyzing the dolphins sounds despite being state of the art at the time. Now, decades later I think they are. I’ve been working on the specifications and design of such a system. A prototype system could be built without too much difficulty or expense. Some of the hardware that was required in the past can now be done in computer software making it easier and more adaptable as well.

    Being able to talk to Cetaceans would be what SETI has been trying to do for years by looking outward find an Alien Intelligence. Perhaps they should turn inward and look to Cetaceans? They certainly have the computing power that would be necessary for realtime two way communication. It would also certainly be a non human [ alien ] intelligence, and its effect on human culture would be just as profound. Maybe even more profound.

    Is the human race ready for such a breakthrough?

    Would an “Alien Intelligence” be more acceptable to the human race if it came from home [ earth ] instead of “Out There”? I think it might.

    What would human race do if we cracked the communications barrier and Tilikum said “You guys used to get in the water and play. I’m sorry, it was an accident.” That would certainly alter the perspective of the issue at the very least. Hopefully it would also mean we stop hunting them for “Scientific Research”.

    Humans have been mostly limited to the land [ 25% of the planet ] for most of history, so who is to say that an intelligent species did not develop in the remaining 75% over the history of the planet? Especially when the territorial ranges don’t overlap.

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