Written by Michelle Kretzer
Benjamin Coultier was just 24
years old when he was mauled to death by a frustrated captive bear. He was cleaning the animal's
cage as part of his job at Animals of Montana, a company that rents out wild
animals for photo shoots as well as film and television productions.
had asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to
investigate because it appeared that the company's owner, Troy Hyde, had
allowed his employees to be in direct contact with the animals, in violation of
federal workplace-safety laws. Following PETA's request, OSHA found that Hyde had twice
violated the law. He had Coultier clean the bear's cage without first
moving the animals to a holding pen, which directly resulted in the young man's
death, and he failed to report the attack promptly after it occurred. An
investigation by state officials uncovered more problems at Animals of Montana,
including numerous unreported escapes and an attack on an employee by a
mountain lion. The employee sustained a gash in his head that went all the way
to his skull, but Hyde reported it as a "scratch."
OSHA wants to see Hyde pay the maximum
penalty for a small
company, a $9,000 fine. It would be a small measure of justice for the man who
lost his life and the bear who was gunned down after the attack.
What You Can Do
If you have witnessed unsafe or inhumane conditions at a
live-animal attraction or photo opportunity, please let PETA know.
Written by Jeff Mackey
There's big news today in a case that PETA has been
tenaciously pursuing for some time: Consistent with the citations issued against SeaWorld in 2010, Administrative Law Judge Ken Welsch of the Occupational Safety and
Health Review Commission (OSHRC) found that SeaWorld is culpable for allowing
its employees to interact directly with potentially dangerous orcas.
Olivier Bruchez|cc by 2.0
For years, PETA has implored SeaWorld to transfer the marine
mammals it enslaves to transitional coastal sanctuaries because confining animals
of such great size to severely inadequate tanks leads to miserable lives of
desperation and frustration—and dangerous conditions for SeaWorld staffers.
After one orca, Tilikum, killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in front of horrified visitors at SeaWorld Orlando, PETA urged the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to pursue a citation against SeaWorld
and provided it with compiled research on the history of deaths and injuries at
the park and orca aggression in captivity. Today's OSHRC decision affirms that
SeaWorld knew that allowing its employees to interact directly with orcas such
as Tilikum could have serious or fatal results.
While the judge modified the citation for "willful"
violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to "serious,"
adjusting the fine accordingly, he found that SeaWorld knew that there was a "substantial probability that
death or serious physical harm could result" from these
interactions, yet it continued to allow them. He found SeaWorld's arguments
that it wasn't aware of these hazards to be implausible and lambasted its corporate
culture of placing the blame for dangerous incidents exclusively on trainers
and discouraging trainers from stopping a show—even after an attack.
Information that came out of the testimony during a two-week
hearing before Judge Welsch, as well as during previous proceedings, includes the following:
While SeaWorld's own corporate incident
log contains reports of more than 100 incidents of orca aggression at
its parks, government attorneys brought up incident after incident that
were left out of the log, including the attack leading to Brancheau's death and
attacks by an orca who had a penchant for grabbing trainers' ponytails. Yet despite the premature deaths of four human
beings—one from extensive internal bleeding—and more than 20 orcas at SeaWorld's
parks, the company continues to put profits over humane concerns. Dawn
Brancheau would be alive today if SeaWorld had heeded PETA's advice.
Please join PETA in politely asking David Michaels, assistant
secretary of labor for
occupational safety and health,
to prohibit all direct contact with potentially dangerous animals. And, of
course, never, ever go to SeaWorld or any other marine-animal park.
Written by Jennifer OConnor
Lions will no
longer be forced to spend their days in the middle of the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino
in Las Vegas after the display closes for good on January 31.
mamamusings | cc by 2.0
In their natural
savannah home, lions roam many miles of territory, hunt, raise their young, and
avoid all contact with blackjack tables and slot machines. But at the MGM Grand,
lions are confined to a display made of artificial rock and floor-to-ceiling
glass, allowing them no privacy and no opportunity to escape crowds of gawking tourists.
The stress and unnatural conditions led to at least two lion attacks
on handlers at the display, prompting PETA to successfully appeal
to the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration to cite the exhibitor,
Keith Evans, for workplace safety violations and to fine him. On top of the state
citations, Evans was also cited by federal officials for illegally declawing two
PETA had appealed
to the management of the Strip landmark for years to eliminate the cruel and
dangerous display, for which lions were hauled back and forth between the
casino and Evans' off-site facility. Now, we are offering to assist MGM with
placing the cats into reputable sanctuaries.
Please click here to give a roar of gratitude to MGM management for
discontinuing the display and to ask that they work with Evans to retire the lions to reputable
sanctuaries using funds that have been set aside for the animals' care.
Written by PETA
On the final day of SeaWorld's challenge to its citations imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), questions abounded about the qualifications of Jeff Andrews, a 15-year SeaWorld veteran who now works at the San Diego Zoo and whom SeaWorld offered as a witness. Andrews was presented as an expert in animal behavior and training and in working safely with large animals. He testified that he primarily learned on the job at SeaWorld and last worked with orcas there in 2001.
When questioned about what he could offer that would differ from previous SeaWorld employees' testimony, Andrews responded only his "position in the park" and his post-SeaWorld experience. He stated that he stays informed of what happens at SeaWorld parks and is called if there is an injury at any of them. He also admitted that he relied entirely on Chuck Tompkins, SeaWorld's corporate curator for zoological operations, for the data and statistics on which he based his opinion.
After a day of direct and cross examination, during which Andrews repeatedly made "expert" statements that were based on others' opinions, his credibility was shredded. Even SeaWorld did not offer Andrews' report, which he had prepared for SeaWorld for the purpose of this hearing and which provided written proof of his flawed methodologies, into evidence.
When questioned about aggressive incidents documented in SeaWorld's monthly recaps, Andrews refused to acknowledge that splitting off routine and thrashing toward a trainer could indicate aggression in Tilikum, laughing at OSHA's attorney for suggesting the possibility and calling the assertion an "uneducated assessment of behavior." Despite using the term "aggressive" repeatedly in his direct testimony and his report, when asked how he defines the term, Andrews responded, "I don't have an operating definition of aggression off the top of my head."
Andrews dismissed the vast majority of behaviors listed as "aggressive tendencies" on Tilikum's behavioral profile, including "mouthing the stage, vocalizations, tightening body posture, banging gates" and "a deep fast swim." Andrews insisted that only lunging toward a trainer could potentially be considered aggressive.
Another notable thing revealed today was an admission by SeaWorld's vice president of veterinary services, Dr. Chris Dold, that about 14 of 20 orcas at SeaWorld have had their teeth drilled after breaking them from biting hard surfaces such as the concrete pools, themselves, and other orcas.
The parties will be submitting final briefs in the coming months, after which the judge will make his decision. But one thing became clear during nine days of testimony: Despite all the deaths, injuries, and other serious incidents that have occurred, SeaWorld employees continue to defend the practice of keeping orcas in tanks and forcing them to perform tricks for the public.
Written by Jennifer O'Connor
Returning to the
stand on day eight of the hearings regarding SeaWorld's challenge to OSHA rulings
against SeaWorld, the company's "curator of animal training," Kelly
Flaherty Clark, became visibly angered when government attorney John Black
implied that SeaWorld makes substantive changes to its protocols only for PR
purposes—rather than to protect trainer safety.
pointed out the differences between the responses to the incidents involving Dawn Brancheau
and John Sillick and the incident involving Alexis Martinez.
The incidents involving Brancheau and Sillick, who was crushed in 1987 when an
orca landed on him while the trainer was in the water, both occurred with the
public present and resulted in significant media attention and some changes to
trainer-orca interactions. In contrast, Martinez's death occurred during a
training session in Tenerife, Spain, at the hideous Loro Parque marine park, out
of public view, and garnered little media attention on an island where tourism
is king and Loro Parque is the big revenue generator. After Martinez's death, trainers
at SeaWorld Orlando were pulled from the water for only a single day, and no
changes to any training or safety procedures were made.
evidence were SeaWorld's "monthly recaps," including 60 pages of
documents about Tilikum that included the heading "Aggressive Incidents"
and detailed an incident in which a trainer lost control of Tilikum during a
show. Tilikum started swimming in circles, and when called back, he "thrashed"
toward the trainer—which Flaherty Clark demonstrated by showing her teeth. Flaherty
Clark dismissed the recaps as "irrelevant." To whom?
Clark was also questioned about a 1997 incident at the now-defunct SeaWorld
Ohio in which trainer Kristine Van Oss was pulled into the water by her
sweatshirt. The resulting incident report stated: "We hope that you plan
to eventually desensitize all killer whales to work with you regardless of what
you're wearing. You can't guarantee hair, apparel, or objects will never be
within reach, so it's better to address the problem." Tilikum pulled Dawn
Brancheau into the tank by her ponytail.
Clark confirmed that until Dawn Brancheau's death, every time trainers were
pulled from the water following a serious incident, they were allowed back in.
And every single time, another
incident or injury occurred.
asked how water work is educational for audiences, a claim that SeaWorld makes
because an educational purpose is required for the company to retain its
federal permits to hold orcas, Flaherty Clark could not provide any
information. No surprise.
by Jennifer O'Connor
After its request
to dismiss the OSHA case against it was rejected, SeaWorld called its first
witness, Jenny Mairot, the supervisor of animal
training at the Orlando park. Mairot started at SeaWorld a year after
graduating from high school and has never received formal training as an animal
behaviorist or trainer outside the organization. Despite being Dawn Brancheau's
partner at the time of her death, Mairot testified cheerfully, laughing loudly
and often during her testimony.
Tilikum—the orca who killed Brancheau (and two others)—as "the most
congenial, easygoing, and predictable" of the three adult male orcas she
has worked with. She called Brancheau's death "tragic, but it was not
unpredictable" and said that SeaWorld employees "were well aware of
what would happen if someone fell into the pool with [Tilikum]."
stressed that SeaWorld turned a blind eye to safety and allowed its trainers to
be in harm's way just for show by "writing incident reports, sending them
around, and patting themselves on the back."
trainer Alexis Martinez's death on "layers of
mistakes" and said that when she watches video footage of the incident, "Keto
[the whale who killed Martinez] wasn't even that bad." She stressed that the
trainers at Loro Parque are "raw" and that the orcas are all young
males. Mairot failed to note that Loro Parque staffers were trained by SeaWorld
trainers and that the orcas were all provided for and placed in the facility by
SeaWorld. SeaWorld Orlando trainers stopped water work for only a single day
after Martinez's death, and no substantive changes were made to their protocols.
The next witness,
Kelly Flaherty Clark, is the curator of animal training at SeaWorld Orlando.
Flaherty Clark agreed with Mairot that the trainers were at fault for Martinez's
death. Flaherty Clark lamented
the fact that non-SeaWorld staffers were allowed to review incident reports
since they don't understand "our craft." When asked who incident
reports were meant for, Flaherty-Clark replied, "Certainly not a lawyer or
More to come.
by Jennifer O'Connor
After a fall
recess, SeaWorld is back in court to resume its fight against a citation
imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which found that the theme park exposed
its employees to serious risks after trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by the orca Tilikum
tried to prevent the day's witnesses from testifying. The first witness, Ken
Peters, is the assistant curator of animal training at SeaWorld San Diego. During
a 1999 show, Peters was attacked by an orca named Kasatka. After the orca tried
to grab Peters' feet and hands, SeaWorld described the near tragedy as an "unfortunate
incident" and an "excellent learning tool." Peters acknowledged
a "calculated risk of dying tomorrow"—which almost came true in 2006,
when Kasatka, forcibly separated from her baby, grabbed Peters' foot and
repeatedly dragged him underwater for extended periods.
All water work with this angry orca stopped because of the "intensity"
of the incident.
The next witness, Mike
Scarpuzzi, is vice president of zoological operations. Scarpuzzi gave short and
evasive answers to the government attorney's questions and repeatedly stared at
the ceiling before responding to even the simplest yes-or-no questions. He was
ultimately designated as a hostile witness by the court.
orca training at Spain's Loro Parque theme park when trainer Alexis Martinez
was killed after being rammed and dragged underwater by an orca named Keto—just
two months before Dawn Brancheau's death. Although SeaWorld attempted to
distance itself from this park and attack its credibility, a SeaWorld trainer,
Brian Rokeach, was stationed at Loro Parque to supervise animal training, and
all decisions about animal care and training were made in conjunction with the
three SeaWorld parks and SeaWorld's corporate headquarters.
Although he was the
supervisor, Scarpuzzi testified that he didn't know (or ask about) the details
surrounding Martinez's death other than being told by Rokeach that he "didn't make it."
Telling Rokeach to "take care of it," Scarpuzzi took no other action
or offered any measure of support until he arrived on site the next day. He
said SeaWorld had concluded that "a combination of relatively commonplace
and minor occurrences" caused the trainer's death. Water work with orcas was
suspended for less than a week after Martinez's death, and no additional
protocols or safety measures were adopted.
Rokeach closed out
the day's proceedings by admitting that SeaWorld's emergency procedures
generally are not successful when the killer whales are in an agitated state.
In light of the new policy issued by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) that will minimize contact with
elephants as well as the use of bullhooks in AZA-accredited zoos, PETA is
renewing our call to the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to make
protected contact a requirement for circuses, traveling shows, and non-AZA
With protected contact, there is always a
barrier between handlers and elephants, which is not only more humane but also
much safer for both species. Bullhooks—heavy
batons with a sharp metal hook on the
end—are never used to beat elephants into compliance.
OSHA—whose mandate is
to protect workers—has acknowledged that "the issue of workers exposed to large animals
[is] a serious occupational health and safety concern," but the agency
nevertheless rejected PETA's previous call to require that captive elephants be
managed in the protected-contact system.
Even if OSHA doesn't act, the AZA's policy
an end to dangerous practices like the elephant rides at the Santa Ana Zoo, which are provided by an outfit called "Have Trunk Will Travel"
that has been caught on video beating
elephants with bullhooks. But the policy doesn't fully go into effect until
2014, and elephants can't wait. Please urge Santa Ana Zoo officials
to stop the cruel and dangerous rides without delay.
SeaWorld's hearing is in recess, PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk is giving the
park some great reasons to use the time to evaluate how to get out of the
captive-animal business. Read what she has to say here.
The following was posted September 24, 2011
has been adjourned until November, but on Friday, Dr. David Duffus—who had
served as the foreperson of the coroner's inquest into the death of trainer
Keltie Byrne after she was pulled into the water and drowned by Tilikum
and two other orcas in 1991—again took the stand.
Dr. Duffus testified that no method of training can control orca behavior and that
current safety measures aren't effective. "Twenty years later, a lot has been done,
yet I'm reading the same outcome,"
he said. Dr. Duffus added that given his knowledge of orcas and the incidents
involving the animals in captivity, there was "no way on Earth" that he
would place himself in immediate contact with Tilikum, nor would he get close
to any other orca because of his "great deal of respect for the
fundamental nature of large predators."
The final witness called before the hearing was adjourned
until mid-November was Les Grove, area director of the Tampa office of the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which conducted the investigation
into Dawn Brancheau's death and issued the citation at issue in this case.
Asked why SeaWorld was cited for a "willful" violation—which entails
an employer's "plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee
safety and health"—Grove mentioned the "Tilly Talk,"
the 100-plus incidents
that have occurred at SeaWorld parks, interviews with management, and training
manuals that show the company was aware that working in close contact with orcas
During the investigation, he added, "It became obvious Tilikum wasn't the
We'll give you further updates when the appeal resumes in
November, but for the orcas, the other dolphins,
and the people endangered by SeaWorld's indifference, there's no time to lose—tell SeaWorld today
that the place for these amazing animals is in a sanctuary, not doing stupid
tricks for tourists.
Minette Layne | cc by 2.0
day four of SeaWorld's
appeal, Shana Groves, a SeaWorld senior trainer who was bitten on the thigh by an orca
during a performance five years ago, testified that she had completed an
incident report as required by the marine park and was surprised to learn that
the attack was one of the many episodes left out
of the corporate incident log that SeaWorld had provided to the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration.
she was bitten, Groves was in a position similar to that of Dawn Brancheau when
she was attacked by Tilikum. Groves, who transferred out of Shamu Stadium to
work with sea lions and otters after Brancheau's attack, broke down in tears
when showed a photo of her and Tilikum.
Topoleski, a former SeaWorld trainer who was acting as Brancheau's "spotter"
at the time Brancheau was attacked, then recounted the circumstances
surrounding Brancheau's death. Topoleski's testimony that Tilikum grabbed
Brancheau by her ponytail was at odds with that of a SeaWorld security guard
who had testified earlier that he watched Brancheau be pulled in the water by
her arm. Topoleski conceded that he did not see Brancheau's hair in Tilikum's
mouth or Brancheau pulled underwater by her hair. The supposed safety procedures
that Topoleski followed were unable to free Brancheau from Tilikum's jaws. Like
Groves, Toploleski stopped working with orcas shortly after the attack.
Fantaz | cc by 2.0
the government called Dr. David Duffus, a professor at the University of
Victoria in British Columbia, as an expert witness to discuss the predatory
nature and inherent unpredictability of orcas, Duffus said that he was "at
a loss" as to why Brancheau was permitted to lie in shallow water at Tilikum's
side, holding his pectoral fin, knowing that he had a history of attacks. "Dealing
with a large predatory animal and not expecting it to behave like a predator, I
don't think that's wise," he said. Duffus questioned whether SeaWorld's
allegations that trainer injuries were rare were a sufficient reason to permit trainers
to be in close proximity with orcas, as even if it happens once in a million
times, if that millionth time is a catastrophe, then it "goes beyond
verdict is in: Humans should not interact with orcas, and SeaWorld puts its
trainers at risk by allowing them to have close contact with dangerous, unpredictable
animals. But stay tuned to find out the outcome of the hearing.
Written by Heather Moore
you have a general question for PETA and would like a response, please e-mail Info@peta.org. If you need to report cruelty to
an animal, please click
here. If you are reporting an animal in imminent danger and know where to find the
animal and if the abuse is taking place right now, please call your local
police department. If the police are unresponsive, please call PETA
immediately at 757-622-7382 and press 2.
Follow PETA on Twitter!
Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights? Read more.