Dear Friends of Lolita,
An event occurred on March 1 that caused shrieks of horror and gnashing of teeth across the captive orca entertainment industry, especially inside Sea World. Much to everyone's amazement, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) presented a responsible and accurate official report on the Nov. 29 incident in which Kasatka, a 7,000-pound, 17-foot-long female, dragged her trainer underwater twice, once for 69 seconds, in front of horrified spectators at Shamu Stadium in San Diego. (See Update 86
for details.) Peters escaped with puncture wounds and a broken foot after he calmed the whale by stroking it.
As the LA Times
reported, (emphasis ours):
SAN DIEGO -- Although SeaWorld Adventure Park has done a good job of preparing its trainers to work with killer whales, it is "only a matter of time" before a whale kills one, state investigators have concluded. SeaWorld employees immediately used a variety of rescue procedures but all failed, the report concludes. The whale refused to comply with commands from other trainers to turn the trainer loose. ...But the report also warned that SeaWorld should be ready to use lethal force against a killer whale if it endangers a trainer by becoming "out of control and not responding to other available control measures." ...While the SeaWorld trainers are experienced and well-schooled in animal behavior, the risk of swimming with the behemoths cannot be eliminated, the report said. ...The shows at Shamu Stadium, in which the whales perform a series of tricks at the command of trainers, are the centerpiece of the SeaWorld experience for tourists. ...The whales are also smart and capable of "cunning and forethought." ...Peters told investigators that he had no warning that Kasatka was going to drag him to the bottom of the 36-foot-deep pool. "She didn't show me any precursors. She didn't tell me, she didn't show me," the report quotes him as saying. ...SeaWorld has long been criticized by animal-rights groups for keeping killer whales in captivity. SeaWorld has seven killer whales; during the height of the summer tourist season there are often six to seven shows a day at Shamu Stadium. ...SeaWorld officials disputed the report's finding as "highly speculative and not supported by scientific fact" and met today with the district manager of the OSHA office to ask him to withdraw or modify the report.
The report was a remarkable show of courage and integrity on the part of Cal/OSHA, and it created a public record of the realities of forcing captive orcas to perform stunts on demand. However, the next day Sea World had stomped on Cal/OSHA and forced it to take back everything and squeal an apology for inconveniencing Sea World staff with their "flawed" report.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported
March 3, 2007 (San Diego Union Tribune) State officials retracted a report yesterday that said it's only a matter of time before one of SeaWorld's killer whales takes a trainer's life and that lethal force should be an option to stop a future attack. In a statement, the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health or Cal/OSHA admitted that some of its conclusions about a killer whale attacking a veteran SeaWorld trainer were wrong and in violation of its policies. Despite their admission that the report is seriously flawed, Cal/OSHA officials yesterday issued SeaWorld a citation alleging "two non-serious violations" of workplace safety standards. Even though it has been withdrawn, the 18-page Cal/OSHA report is certain to add fodder to the long-running debate over the propriety of keeping marine mammals in captivity. In contrast to wild orcas, which have no history of attacking people, killer whales in captivity have displayed aggressive behavior toward humans many times. The report implies that SeaWorld's orcas have a history of mishaps and misbehavior caused largely by boredom and stress. ...Kasatka resumed performing Nov. 30, but no trainer is allowed to be in the water with her, Koontz said. The document also noted that two weeks before the attack involving Kasatka and Peters, a different SeaWorld trainer was injured in a similar incident involving another female orca. SeaWorld officials had never disclosed the earlier attack to the media. During the Nov. 15 incident, a 19-foot-long, 5,900-pound orca name Orkid grabbed senior trainer Brian Rokeach by the leg, pulled him to the bottom of the pool and held him under water for about 26 seconds.
The LA Times
brought out more details from the report after it had been retracted:
According to the report, Kasatka had twice before made threatening moves at Peters, in 1993 when she came at him "as if to grab him" and in 1999 when she "came at him in the water and showed him her teeth." ...Although zookeepers deal with wild and dangerous animals, the report said, they do not perform tricks with them. "The humans that swim with and perform with orcas in this setting are putting their lives in danger every time they jump into the pool," it concluded.
SeaWorld has long been criticized by conservation and animal rights groups for keeping orcas in captivity. The state report had brought immediate support from such groups in the United States and abroad. Andrina Murrell, an official with the London-based Marine Connection, said the Nov. 29 incident was a sign of the stress that the whales suffer by living in a pool much smaller than their natural range. "Captive killer whales are simply a caricature, a Disney character which bears no relation to their wild counterparts, nullifying any educational benefit," she said.
The LA Times then reflected on this latest episode of Sea World demonstrating its dominance over whales and governments in an editorial
...Yes, as the state agency notes, killer whales are dangerous. That's the whole point. Why else would people pay to see puny humans in a giant pool with a smart carnivore almost 50 times their body mass? ...But a more compelling work issue here may be whether it's a fair thing for the whales to be confined to swimming pools. In the wild, pods of orcas can travel more than 100 miles a day. Not so at Sea World. No wonder they sometimes get ornery in captivity.
In other news, Lolita has received some publicity recently in articles about an effort here on Whidbey Island to uncover the remains of orcas killed during the infamous captures of 1970, when Lolita was taken from her family. In the March 5 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- (Webmaster Note
: Links Dead)):
Researchers seek bones of Puget Sound orcas killed in roundups
It took bombs, planes and speedboats to corral the orcas at Whidbey Island's Penn Cove, where the youngsters were separated from their pods and shipped off to aquariums around the country.
Now, researchers are trying to locate the bones of a handful of orcas killed during those roundups in the 1960s and '70s, hoping that analyzing the remains will help them better understand the endangered animals.
Four or five of the killer whales are believed to have been buried on the central part of Whidbey Island, near Coupeville. Susan Berta, program director of the Orca Network, a Whidbey Island group that tracks the whales, identified three possible burial spots using the accounts of witnesses.
Puget Sound's three southern resident orca pods, known as J, K and L, were granted protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. DNA samples and eating histories of the long-dead killer whales could help prove that the Puget Sound killer whales are different enough from other orcas to further validate their listing as endangered, Berta said. Only one orca captured from Puget Sound during the 1960s and '70s remains alive: Lolita, who lives in the Miami Seaquarium in Florida.
Please help us make June Washington Orca Awareness month! You can sign the petition.
One last note: In the February issue of Jane magazine is a full page photo of lovely fashion model and Lolita freedom campaigner Anne-Marie Van Dijk, whose cutout quote is:
"It's important to me to speak out against keeping whales and dolphins in captivity."
Anne-Marie goes on to say:
"People don't realize how much the animals suffer, because the entertainment parks don't want you to know."
Our thanks and appreciation go out to Anne-Marie for her dedication.