Captivity Industry on Trial as ALDF Urges Protective Barriers for All U.S. Marine Theme Parks
MIAMI—Today, the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) sent a formal letter to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), seeking enforcement of safety standards to protect workers from captive orcas at the Miami Seaquarium. OSHA currently relies upon the “general duty clause” of the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (“the Act”) to protect orca trainers from injury and death, and ALDF’s letter argues that this clause should apply to every orca exhibitor in the marine display industry, from SeaWorld to the Miami Seaquarium. Today’s letter also requests greater investigation of industry safety violations as well as full enforcement of the Act’s general duty clause which OSHA interprets to require distance between employees and captive orcas on workplace premises during performances.
The Miami Seaquarium is the only U.S. marine theme park not in full compliance with the federal agency’s interpretation that prohibits trainers from entering the water with a captive orca. The facility also houses a 43 year-old orca named Lolita in the smallest orca tank in North America. ALDF, along with PETA, has filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for excluding Lolita from Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections, and a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for licensing the Seaquarium despite myriad violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
According to today’s letter, ALDF argues that by ignoring federal safety regulations the Miami Seaquarium is not only harming Lolita but also the safety of her trainers. Enforcement of the Act may have prevented the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. In 2010, Dawn was killed in front of a crowd of spectators when a 12,000 pound orca named Tilikum dragged her under water—as discussed in the popular documentary Blackfish, which aired on CNN in October. As a result of Brancheau’s death, OSHA cited SeaWorld of Florida for violating the Act.
“We don’t need further tragedy to prove what has already been demonstrated so clearly,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Orcas don’t belong in captivity, and people don’t belong in the water with them. Meanwhile, the Miami Seaquarium continues to act like worker safety and animal welfare laws don’t apply when profit is concerned”
Copies of ALDF’s letter to OSHA are available upon request.
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