Only two and a half years ago, veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau was viciously attacked and killed by a killer Orca whale during SeaWorld’s famous “Dining with Shamu” event in February. Recently, these damaging memories have resurfaced for Sea World with the reopening of the poolside dinner event this week for the first time since the incident. With Brancheau’s death barely two winters ago, many customers are still wondering if it is still too dangerous for SeaWorld to host such an up-close-and-personal event, and if large animal performances should even still continue.
On May 30, SeaWorld faced its ruling against the Occupational and Safety Health Administration in response to the Branceau attack, and SeaWorld’s citation was downgraded from ‘willful’ to ‘serious.’ This decision minimized their penalty fees and sense of responsibility. SeaWorld appealed the case and this week, a final decision will be made as to whether the case will be reviewed once again. Many hope for the citation to be reinstated to ‘willful,’ forbidding the company from placing their trainers back in waters with the whales until changes are made.
Along with the court appeal, the resurfacing of Brancheau’s death can be attributed to SeaWorld’s reopening of “Dine With Shamu” this week.
Tilikum, the whale responsible for not only Brancheau’s death, but also the brutal deaths of a trainer and two visitors, returned to SeaWorld Orlando in the wake of the incident last March. Tilikum’s return to the “Dining with Shamu” program is extremely controversial and petrifying to Sea World tourists as well as trainers. After over 20 years of performing, it begs the question if Tilikum and other Orca whales should be kept in captivity due to their killer instincts.
SeaWorld is stuck in a difficult situation on how to handle Tilikum and other killer whales, as well as protect their trainers. Unwilling and unable to kill or release the whale, SeaWorld must find a way to maintain their business as well as keep their visitors and staff free from harm. As these whales are killers by nature, they inevitably will rebel from their trained performances, often leading to severe injuries and in many cases, death. Large animals are not meant to be placed in captivity, and we have seen how dangerous it is for humans to be subduing their natural instincts and replacing them with trained performances. One counterargument proposed is that that trainers are fully aware of the dangers they face when working with wild animals, but that is no excuse for them to be held responsible in the case of an attack.
Although there is claimed to be an improved safety arena for trainers in this event, SeaWorld is not approaching the issues that accompany whale display in good faith. If they continue to proceed with the opening of “Dine With Shamu,” SeaWorld should ensure that all trainers and visitors are properly protected, possibly by a barrier or considerable distance from their whales. If SeaWorld does not clean up their act soon, they could possibly be facing very high fees and penalties, their trainers could be taken out of animal performances, and the theme park will leave behind some very unsatisfied customers.