SeaWorld Cited for Violations of Employee Safety by Cal-OSHA in Middle of Its PR Blitz

by on May 4, 2015 · 0 comments

in California, Culture, Environment, Health, History, Media, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Politics, San Diego

SeaWorld protesters

Demonstration at San Diego SeaWorld gate.

In Another Blow – Mattel Pulls “SeaWorld Trainer Barbie Dolls”

In the midst of an aggressive PR campaign in a gigantic push-back against all the negative publicity it has received and the subsequent drop in attendance and profits lately, SeaWorld has just been cited by California health and safety inspectors for serious violations of employees safety.

Four citations were issued to the Mission Bay facility by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health- three of them serious – and all toll they carry about $26,000 in fines.

From an inspection that occurred on October 29th of last  year, OSHA cites violations of worker safety that include a failure by SeaWorld to keep its employees aware of the dangers posed by orcas; requiring employees to ride and swim with them in the park’s medical pools and for having trainers be with orcas in more shallow areas on pool edges.

Employees – especially trainers and keepers – have not been allowed to be with the killer whales during shows since an Orlando trainer was killed in 2010.

One of the more stunning violations by Cal-OSHA is the finding that SeaWorld forced its animal trainers to sign annual confidentiality agreements that discourage them from informing their employer of “hazards for fear of reprisal.”

These citations couldn’t come at a worse time for SeaWorld, as it’s currently involved in a PR blitz campaign that is blanketing media sources with their version of a push-back from its virtual slide in reputation, attendance and profits. This aggressive campaign has resulted in TV commercials that try to convince us that they “love” their animals, and even ads on the LA Times Op-Ed pages – although the type font is so small, they are nearly illegible.

SeaWorld has been buttressed by the highly-publicized death of its trainer, the film “Blackfish”, and the active campaign that has been going on here in San Diego for years, that has seen numerous protests at its gates. As part of this campaign, the OB Rag published “The San Diego 10 – the Captive Orcas of SeaWorld“.

OSHA spokeswoman, Erika Monterroza, stated that their investigation, inspection and citations were sparked by a complaint from an unknown source – possibly an employee or visitor. Monterroza explained:

“All employers are required to have a safety plan that looks at all of the jobs and duties, looks at any hazards related to those duties and takes the appropriate steps, whether it’s specific work practices or protective equipment in order to keep employees safe on the job because the goal is to have people go home safe and sound,”

SeaWorld was also found to not have procedures in place for responding to “imminent hazards”that could potentially result in serious injury or death. Specifically, there were no procedures to protect employees and supervisors who “rode on the killer whales and swam with killer whales in the medical pool” and “who were present on the slide outs with killer whales in various pools.”

SeaWorld, in response to the OSHA violations, stated:

“There is no higher priority for SeaWorld than the safety of guests and team members and the welfare of our animals. The citations issued by Cal/OSHA today were not precipitated by any workplace incident, accident or injury, and they reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the requirements of safely caring for killer whales in a zoological setting.”

These citations follow others in previous years. Ever since SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed in 2010 when Tilikum – a 2,000-pound male orca – grabbed her and pulled her into a pool, its workplace safety conditions have been under a federal microscope –  and now a state one.

Tilikum the orca was the subject of the 2013 documentary film “Blackfish” – which showed a strong case for the theory that captivity provokes violent behavior from orcas.

After an investigation into Brancheau’s death, SeaWorld was cited for violating federal safety workplace where trainers were exposed to known hazards while working closely with orcas during performances.

And for four years, SeaWorld fought these citations, just recently dropping the case against the feds and giving up an appeal of a ruling from a U.S. Court that upheld the Labor Department’s citation which ordered trainers be prohibited from close contact with them during performances – unless protected by a physical barrier.

SeaWorld BarbieAnother persistent critic of SeaWorld is PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A spokesman, Jared Goodman, stated:

“SeaWorld resists safety reforms every step of the way because it puts profit before the welfare of its employees and the orcas confined so miserably to its tiny concrete tanks.

With the life-threatening dangers to trainers and the detrimental effects of enslaving intelligent, social, and far-ranging orcas, SeaWorld’s tawdry shows will soon be a thing of the past.

SeaWorld needs to make the only responsible and humane choice and release its captive orcas to coastal sanctuaries.”

In yet another blow to SeaWorld commercial reputation, Barbie – the Mattel doll – has been pulled from SeaWorld shelves. Mattel has just announced  that the company would no longer produce SeaWorld Trainer Barbie dolls, which came packaged with “a toy whale and a toy dolphin, which squirt water, and a tiny fish pool.”


News source: U-T San Diego, HuffPost:



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