Judge Smacks Down SeaWorld While Survey Says Keep Orcas Wild

Orcas and trainers at SeaWorld Orlando. A recent survey suggests orca captivity isn’t exactly riding a wave of public support - Photo by Stig NygaardSeaWorld was dealt a blow in late May when Judge Ken S. Welsch of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upheld an OSHA ruling that stemmed from the death of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010. In the prior ruling, OSHA found SeaWorld’s safety protocols inadequate to protect trainers. The company was issued citations and abatement orders that included requiring a physical barrier or its equivalent to separate trainers from whales. Of course, this put a crimp in SeaWorld’s iconic killer whale shows, so—notwithstanding the four deaths from human/orca interactions thus far at SeaWorld and other facilities—the company appealed. Fortunately, Judge Welsch upheld the barrier requirement, forcing SeaWorld to revamp its shows.

AWI holds that orcas don’t belong in captivity at all, and it seems we are not alone. In June, AWI, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and The Humane Society of the U.S. commissioned a public opinion survey on orca captivity. The results were very clear. Opposition to orcas in captivity outweighed support, and the vast majority said that if zoos, aquaria and marine mammal theme parks were to cease keeping killer whales, it would make no difference in their desire or decision to visit. Although some saw an educational value in viewing killer whales close-up, most felt that the negative impacts of removing these animals from their natural habitat and keeping them in captivity outweighed the perceived benefit. Hopefully, this ruling and evidence of public opinion on the matter signal that orca captivity is finally on the wane.

A comprehensive summary of our survey can be found at www.awionline.org/orca-survey