Entries in SeaWorld (8)


SeaWorld Killer Whale Injury Spurs PETA Complaint

Hemera/Thinkstock (file photo)(SAN DIEGO) -- A killer whale at SeaWorld in San Diego is recovering from a nasty gash to its jaw that is the subject of a dispute between the park and the animal rights group PETA.

SeaWorld says the 11-year-old killer whale named Nakai was injured during a show last month when he somehow came in contact with a portion of the pool.  The gaping hole is so big that Nakai’s jawbone was left exposed.

PETA says an anonymous whistle-blower told them that Nakai was attacked by other captive, angry orcas at the park.

“You can’t keep three young males together in what is, for them a fishpond or a fishbowl,” PETA president and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk told ABC News.  “They will have nowhere to go unless they can swim through concrete when they feel aggressive towards each other.”

The animal rights group has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, saying it wants SeaWorld disciplined for not keeping the whales separated as required under the Animal Welfare Act.  The law requires incompatible marine mammals to be kept in separate enclosures, PETA said.

SeaWorld says veterinarians determined the injury was not a result of an animal bite and provided video to ABC News showing Nakai on the mend. Trainers and veterinarians say they are closely monitoring his recovery and treating him with antibiotics.

“He’s [Nakai] doing very well and interacting with all the other whales and trainers,” said Kristi Burtis, supervisor of animal training at SeaWorld.

Nakai is a killer whale with a violent family tree.  Nakai’s father, Tilikum, was the orca that killed a trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., two years ago.

“It’s hard to tell if they’re just playing rough or if these are just aggressive interactions between individuals,” said Robert Pitman of the National Marine Fisheries Service in San Diego.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


SeaWorld Near-Fatal Whale Attack Video Released

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The just-released 2006 video of a veteran trainer at SeaWorld being grabbed by his leg and dragged under water by a 5,000-pound killer whale indicates that the animal might have been trying to send a message, the journalist who obtained the video said.

"I think she was trying to tell him, 'Hey, I got to go take care of my kid ... she's calling for me, and I don't want to perform,'" said David Kirby, who made the video public for his new book, Death at SeaWorld.

Ken Peters, then 39, was seen flailing helplessly as he is dragged underwater by Kasatka, a 30-year-old killer whale that he'd trained for years.

Kasatka, who was featured in performances at SeaWorld's San Diego theme parks, is seen rag-dolling Peters, holding him underwater as a minute passes, then bringing him up.  Then she releases him, and Peters thrashes for the edge of the pool.  Trying to run, Peters stumbles, his feet mangled.

"If she wanted to kill him, she would have killed him," former trainer Thad Lacinak said.  "We are taught to remain calm.  If you get excited, the animal will get excited."

Kirby says that Peters is incredibly lucky to be alive.

"He's kicking his legs, trying to keep her away from his body, and then she grabs him again, and down they go," Kirby said.

The video became a dramatic piece of evidence in a Florida courtroom in the fall of 2011, when federal regulators defended their decision to issue a citation against Sea World.  This came after a fatal incident at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010, when 40-year-old trainer Dawn Brancheau was pulled underwater and killed by the 11,000-pound killer whale Tilikum.

That was the whale's third fatal attack on a human.  After a year long hiatus after the incident, Tilikum returned to performing at Sea World in March 2011.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration claimed the theme park put trainers like Brancheau at risk, and that this video proves SeaWorld was aware of the dangers.

In response to the case at the time, SeaWorld asserted it was unaware the whales could be deadly, and told ABC News on Tuesday that after the 2006 incident, Peters "showed skillful execution of an emergency response plan" and "returned to work shortly after this incident and remains a member of the team at Shamu Stadium to this day."

video platform video management video solutions video player

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


"Death at SeaWorld": Book Slams Popular Theme Park

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More than two years after the horrific death of a SeaWorld killer whale trainer, former trainers from the popular Orlando, Fla., theme park have taken the park to task for its safety record and its treatment of killer whales, also known as orcas, in the new book, Death at Sea World.

In February 2010, a 12,000-pound killer whale named Tilikum dragged veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau under water to her death.  Tilikum was also linked to two other deaths -- that of another trainer in 1991 and of a man who snuck into Tilikum's tank in 1999.

"SeaWorld can make the environment safe, according to them, 98 percent of the time.  But what happens when the world's top predator decides to go off behavior?" former trainer Jeffrey Ventre asked in an interview with ABC's 20/20.

In a statement emailed to ABC News, SeaWorld called its killer whale program "a model for marine zoological facilities around the world" and said that in the last two years, additions "in the areas of personal safety, facility design and communication have enhanced this program further still."

Ventre was one of four former SeaWorld trainers interviewed by Death at Sea World author David Kirby.  Ventre was fired from SeaWorld in 1995 because, he claimed, he had voiced his concerns about the treatment of whales there.  (In his book, Kirby reports that Ventre was fired a week after kissing a whale's tongue, in violation of park rules.  Ventre said in the book that many had violated the so-called "tongue-tacticle" rule but were not disciplined and called his firing "total bull****.")

SeaWorld declined to comment on Ventre's history with the park but issued the following statement on Kirby's book: "While we have not yet been given the opportunity to read Mr. Kirby's book, we are familiar with his articles and blog posts on SeaWorld and the issues of marine mammal display."

Kirby, the park said, "has been very candid about his personal opposition to SeaWorld's killer whale program and we anticipate that his book will expand on those themes.  We disagree with Kirby's positions on marine mammal display and hope that he, unlike others who engage in the debate over these issues, confines his arguments to matters of fact."

In his book, Kirby wrote that there are no records of orcas in the wild attacking humans but, in captivity, aggression against trainers is not uncommon.

Kirby also noted that it may not just be the trainers who suffer. Killer whales in captivity have a mortality rate of 2.5 times higher than those living in the Pacific Northwest, Kirby wrote, citing a paper by marine mammal scientist Naomi Rose of the Humane Society.

Trainers interviewed by Kirby spoke of whales breaking their teeth on metal gates and having broken teeth removed with power drills; mother whales going into mourning after being separated from their offspring; and trainers being instructed to "masturbate" Tilikum -- the whale later blamed for Brancheau's death -- to collect semen for an artificial insemination program.

Former trainer John Jett said in the book that trainers were routinely kept in the dark about safety problems related to killer whale work.

"A lack of detailed information was the norm whenever accidents happened at other parks," he said.  "I remember one incident when all of us were pulled from water work for a short time.  To this day, I don't know what happened."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


SeaWorld Fights Charges after Trainer's Death

Stockbyte/Thinkstock (file photo)(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- SeaWorld Orlando and federal officials are sparring in a Florida courtroom this week over charges that the popular theme park put its employees at risk by allowing them to perform shows in potentially dangerous conditions.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration filed an extensive complaint detailing the allegedly unsafe work environment at SeaWorld and said in court Wednesday that the theme park failed to keep proper documentation of whale behaviors that could endanger trainers.

The complaint comes on the heels of the death of Dawn Brancheau, a trainer who was violently drowned by a killer whale named Tilikum during a live show at the Orlando park in February 2010.

In a copy of the complaint provided to ABC News, OSHA specifically mentions the killer whale.

"At the Shamu Stadium pools animal trainers working with Tilikum, a killer whale with known aggressive tendencies and who was involved in the 1991 death of a whale trainer at a marine park in Vancouver, British Columbia, were exposed to struck-by and drowning hazards in that they were allowed unprotected contact with Tilikum," the complaint states.

SeaWorld vehemently denies the charges that it put its employees at risk.

"These allegations are completely baseless, unsupported by any evidence or precedent, and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care," wrote SeaWorld in a statement.

SeaWorld is asking that a judge throw out the three federal safety citations, which would not only slam the park with up to $75,000 in fines -- but also threaten its famous shows.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


SeaWorld’s Iconic Killer Whale Show May End

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- It could be the next installment of Free Willy, provided the court rules against SeaWorld executives and decides to cancel its popular Shamu shows after a whale killed an animal trainer 19 months ago.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the Shamu shows are the most marketable thrill to vacationers around the world, and restrictions could heavily cripple the franchise—on top of the $75,000 fine the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration wants to issue SeaWorld.

The proposed cancellation of the show comes after the Feb. 24, 2010 death of veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed when a 6-ton killer whale named Tilikum pulled her underwater.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Drowned Trainer's Family OK With Whale Returning to Water Show

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The family of the SeaWorld trainer who was killed by a killer whale last year said on Monday that they're okay with the whale returning to the water to perform in shows.

On Feb. 24, 2010, Dawn Brancheau was killed when a 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum grabbed her ponytail and drowned her.  On Saturday, the whale returned to the Orlando theme park's big stage to thunderous applause.

"If that's what's best for Tili, that's what Dawn would want," Dawn Brancheau's sister Diane Gross told ABC News.  She said that decision should be left to SeaWorld.  "They have the expertise."

Brancheau's death was caught on tape and watched by horrified spectators.  The 40-year-old trainer was at ease with the killer whale and had just petted him on the nose just before it pulled her into the pool and began swinging her around in its mouth.

Thomas LoVerde, Brancheau's brother, said he does not know if his sister would have wanted the animal euthanized.  "Obviously it's hard to speak on Dawn's behalf in this situation," he said.

Following Brancheau's death, the park banned trainers from being in the water with all killer whales.

Tilikum is connected to the deaths of three others.  In 1991, trainer Keltie Lee Byrne fell into a tank holding Tilikum and two other whales at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, Canada.  A homicide inquest found that the whales had prevented Byrne from climbing out of the tank and ruled her death an accident.

After Tilikum was transferred to SeaWorld in Orlando, Tilikum was again connected to the death of a person in 1999.  The body of Daniel Dukes, 27, was found naked and draped across the giant whale's body in July 1999.  Dukes reportedly got past security at SeaWorld and remained in the park after it had closed.  Wearing only his underwear, Dukes jumped, fell or was pulled into the frigid water of Tilikum's huge tank.

Tilikum had been brought to SeaWorld mostly to mate and trainers like Brancheau were not allowed in the water with him, but did interact with him on the pool ledge.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


SeaWorld's Killer Whale Returns to Stage, Gets Thunderous Ovation

Stockbyte/Thinkstock (file photo)(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- Thunderous applause greeted SeaWorld's Tilikum Thursday as the killer whale returned to the theme park's big stage, 13 months after grabbing trainer Dawn Brancheau by her ponytail and drowning her.

SeaWorld officials in Orlando, Florida would not specify what safety precautions were instituted, but some appeared to be obvious.

Steel bars blocked the whales from the main stage and female trainers wore their hair in high buns.  Trainers also stayed out of the water and off the stages during Tilikum's performance.

When the 12,000 pound orca made his entrance, the crowd erupted in applause and cheers.  But many were still fearful.

"I was afraid," said one boy who was splashed by the giant whale.

Colleen Gorman of St. Petersburg Beach said, "I didn't see any new protective measures… he's a timebomb.  If anyone gets near him.. he's been linked to three deaths already, I'm afraid that if anybody comes close to him he'll do it again."

"He's big, very big," said Bob Beasy of Chicago, who was pleased to see that the trainers were out of the pool.  "They put up bars for safety, which means the trainers are safe and we can still those beautiful animals perform."

SeaWorld officials said that it was the killer whale's "choice" to perform in the Believe show Thursday morning and that none of the park's whales are coerced to participate.

In a statement, executives from SeaWorld defended Tilikum's reentry into the performing world, saying it "is an important component of his physical, social and mental enrichment."

Tilikum has been connected to the death of three humans.  The last death was on Feb. 24, 2010 when Tilikum used his girth to snatch trainer Dawn Brancheau's ponytail, pull her underwater and shake her violently until she died.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Killer Whale That Drowned SeaWorld Trainer Returning to Show

Stockbyte/Thinkstock (file photo)(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- The killer whale that drowned its SeaWorld trainer over a year ago in Orlando, Florida will be back in the spotlight Wednesday, making its first public performance since the incident.

SeaWorld announced Tuesday that Tilikum will participate in the park's current killer whale show, Believe.

The show will be Tilikum's first since Feb. 24, 2010, when his trainer Dawn Brancheau died after Tilikum got a hold of her ponytail and took her under water.

The marine park said, "participating in shows is just a portion of Tilikum's day, but we feel it is an important component of his physical, social and mental enrichment."

But some are surprised that SeaWorld would return the killer whale to performances.

"Tilikum has been involved in the deaths of three people.  And I think that their attitude of we'll just keep doing what we've always done, everything will be fine is extremely cavalier.  I think they're taking a big risk and they're making a big mistake," said Naomi Rose with the Humane Society of America.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio