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A US Court of Appeals has ruled SeaWorld acted irresponsibly in exposing trainers to “recognized hazards”. Specifically the court is referring to the widely popular, but now controversial Orca shows after a performance claimed the life of trainer Dawn Bancheau in 2010. Since then, mass media and the film Blackfish have prompted many organizations to call for action to be taken against the park, including the banning of Orca shows. This ruling, while not banning, could be a compromise between both parties and allow for the show to go on.
According to Mashable, Judge Judith Rodgers stated that “stricter safety regulations” could be implemented without impacting the quality of the show. Suggestions included physical barriers between the whales and trainers, as well as more space. Another judge of the appeal offered a dissenting opinion saying the trainers of the mammals know the risks involved in taking on an unusual and dangerous position. He then likened the training profession to a risk much like one of professional athletes. SeaWorld offered a statement via email that reads as follows…
"SeaWorld remains committed to providing a safe workplace for employees, healthy environments for the animals in our care, and inspirational and educational experiences with killer whales for our guests. We are still reviewing the opinion and no decision has been made on whether we will appeal."
Dawn Bancheau lost her life during a performance in which she was pulled underwater and drowned by a 12,000 pound Bull Orca by the name of Tilikum. Prior to Bancheau’s death, Tilikum had been involved of the deaths of two other people. In 1991 at his former home Sealand Of The Pacific, a marine biologist was captured and drowned by Tilikum and two other whales during open hours. After her death, the trainers struggled as the whales kept them from recovering the body for several hours. The circumstances behind the other death are unknown, but trainers arrived early one morning at Sea World to find Daniel Dukes naked and mutilated, draped over Tilikum’s back. It is believed Dukes stayed past the parks closing time and attempted to swim with the Orca.
Tilikum is the most successful male Orca in captivity and has over 21 children, 12 of which are currently living. It has been speculated that Tilikum’s history of violence and aggressive attitude have come from abusive training and living conditions at the now defunct Sealand Of The Pacific. At Sealand Of The Pacific, Tilikum was denied food for failure to train and kept in a small box with two aggressive whales until his sale. Tilikum still performs at SeaWorld but under stricter safety guidelines than prior 2010.