one green planet
one green planet

SeaWorld’s captivity-driven business model is slowly crumbling beneath its feet. Little by little, the entertainment giant has come under increase scrutiny, starting, more widely, with trainer Dawn Bracheau’s death in February 2010 when Tilikum, the largest orca currently in captivity, pulled her underwater again and again.

At this time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the company for “endangering the safety of its killer whale trainers,” as Click Orlando reports. SeaWorld was ordered to pay a $75,000 fine (which was later reduced to $7,000) and barred trainers from being in pools with the orcas.

The fine wasn’t such a big deal to SeaWorld, but the trainer ban was, since this would make orca performances more difficult. Not using wild animals for profit – what a terrible idea, right?

And so, in typical SeaWorld fashion, the company immediately set up an appeals process with the U.S. Court of Appeals and argued that the OSHA overstepped its authority.

The case has went on for the past three years, and in March 2014, SeaWorld tried to go after the OSHA again, or more specifically OSHA investigator, Lara A. Padgett, and requested that she be removed from monitoring their parks in a six-page complaint that was accompanied by 200 pages of documentation. (Padgett was an investigator on Bracheau’s case and her review played a key role in “severely” limiting SeaWorld trainer and orca interactions.)

However, looks like SeaWorld may be silenced on these matters once and for all as the U.S. Court of Appeals has finally handed out its response to SeaWorld’s appeal. By a 2-1 ruling, the court has denied SeaWorld’s appeal. Woohoo!

As Reuters reports, “The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit could have a major impact on how SeaWorld presents its shows because it would require increased separation of humans and killer whales.”

While the ruling will have an impact on how SeaWorld manages its orca shows, it will hopefully have more far-reaching effects as well. More specifically, the court’s decision highlights a key aspect of the captivity entertainment industry that is so often disregarded, covered up, or simply not addressed at all – that wild animals cooped up in human-made environments is dangerous business.

“Statements by SeaWorld managers do not indicate that SeaWorld’s safety protocols and training made the killer whales safe; rather, they demonstrate SeaWorld’s recognition that the killer whales interacting with trainers are dangerous,” Judge Judith Rogers said on behalf of the court, as reported by Reuters.

Orcas are not domesticated animals nor can we predict their behaviors (we can’t even do that for cats and dogs and fellow humans), yet for some reason companies, like SeaWorld, seem to think that we can control these magnificent beings and inhibit their natural tendencies to the point where they learn to do tricks for an audience and are then paraded as “educational” and important “conservation” resources.

Taking away another’s freedom runs far counter to real conservation and education. In fact, it places true learning and awareness in jeopardy as people learn instead that being in pools with wild animals and watching them perform silly tricks is normal when in fact it is not and never has been.

The U.S. Court of Appeals decision is a welcomed one on the marine mammal protection front, and hopefully it will show SeaWorld that the time has come for it to change its ways.

Image source: Ed Schipul / Flickr