SeaWorld trying to determine safe proximity to work with Tilikum

Posted Wednesday, March 3, 2010 12:01 PM | Contributed by Jeff

As SeaWorld and the team of outside experts it has assembled comb through the company's safety policies following last week's fatal killer-whale accident, they face an important question: How close is too close for the trainers who work with the company's biggest orca?

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 1:14 PM

After watching a National Geographic special on orcas and seeing them pluck seals off the beach, I would say the safe proximity is not very proximate.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 3:48 PM

With Tilly in specific, two feet on dry land at all times seems reasonable and appropraite....those "slides" and such might be OK for the other orcas, but *not* for working with Tilly.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 5:50 PM

You know the real problem with all of this...

Sea World is a workplace, and the trainers are employees, and as a result, the trainers are subject to the rules of OSHA. OSHA dictates that the employer (meaning Sea World) has to have safety protocols in place to protect their workers (the trainers) from the various hazards of the job. Unfortunately, becoming the mid-afternoon snack of an orca is an occupational hazard of working with 6-ton marine mammals. The fact that the marine mammal in question weighs 6 tons, can start unexpectedly, and operates autonomously makes it a particularly hazardous piece of industrial machinery even when it isn't hungry. The fact that it actually has a brain makes it particularly unpredictable. In any factory, this thing would be put into a dinosaur pit and workers would be instructed never to go near the thing when it was powered up, regardless of whether it is operational or not.

The trouble is, you can't power it down (more than once), and it is impossible to install guards, interlocks, or other safety devices for worker protection. There is no E-stop on an orca. At the same time, the orca requires direct personal attention from the workers manning it. It is necessary for them to interact with it even while it is in a potentially hazardous state. So none of the usual precautions you can take with hazardous machinery will do you any good when you're working with an orca. In the end, it is the combination of training, experience, knowledge, and even familiarity with the particular creature that will preserve the trainer's safety.

Sea World can write volumes of manuals and put them on the shelf. They can have the trainers read through the manuals and sign off on them. They can certify to OSHA that they have put safety procedures in place, and then when something bad happens, they can compare what happened to what the manuals say, and maybe figure out who can be blamed for the incident. But in the end it won't make a bit of difference. No corporate safety officer is going to have nearly the experience working with the animals, knowing the hazards associated with working with the animals, and knowing all the physical requirements associated with working with the animals. The trainers are going to rely on their knowledge and experience to keep themselves safe no matter what the safety manual says. Because they already know better than anyone else both the hazards and the appropriate precautions for doing their jobs.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 5:54 PM

According to this jackhole, both Tilly and someone from Sea World (a manager? CEO?) should be put to death. Just the way Jesus wanted.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 6:08 PM

This orca has killed before and shouldn't be used in the show at all. Seeaworld is stupid for putting thier own workers in danger from such an unpredictable animal.

I agree with the hackhole in that Tilly needs to be killed not the namager or CEO. Here's a simple solution to ensure that something like this will not happen again. Have someone hidden in the rafters with a .223 rifle with a silencer. In the even of something like this happening, have the trainer give the sniper a signal either by word or a hand gesture. When that signal is given, the whale goes to whale heaven.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 6:17 PM

At least Dave is rational. Can't say the same for everyone.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 6:47 PM

Imagine if there was a sniper in the rafter of the forums...

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 7:08 PM

Carrie: There is.

Ever notice how occasionally some crazy stumbles in, and is quickly "escorted out", never to be seen again? :)

Birdman, I tried to track down some information on your reported "jackhole" and the best I could do was to assume he thinks of himself as a Christian. If that is the case, don't you think it interesting that he is so wrapped up in details of Old Testament canon law? I couldn't find the exact passage I was thinking of, but isn't that the law that the whole crucifixion/resurrection thing was supposed to replace by grace? Sorry, but if he can cherry-pick from scripture then so can I...and I suggest a look at Romans 2.

Jeff: I'll be the first to tell you that the whole "whale as machinery" think is quite ridiculous. But unfortunately, when you have an entire safety culture that is based on protecting workers from machinery, and more important, that is required by law to be applied in all situations, what choice does one have but to lean towards the absurd?

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 7:31 PM

Good call, Dave. :)

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 9:47 PM

Dave- question on the law, it is "reasonable" protections, right? I mean some things like Whale Training, Nascar Driving, Professional Football and apparently working at a Publix Service Desk in Orlando are just inherently dangerous..

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 10:32 PM

Review/change of procedures can make a difference in terms of liability if there is a future incident. Also provides a PR benefit.

One bite rule for dogs is a variation of the biblical concept noted in that llink. Although we don't put the owner to death if there is a second bite, the consequences to the owner are often times worse.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 10:48 PM

They're going to put giant shock collars on the whales. NO!!!! Bad Shamu!!!! But that would be animal cruelty, and hard to keep on a whale.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010 12:33 AM

Here is a question for you. What do you think will happen if the trainers at Sea World continue to work with Tilikum, and there is another incident? I'm curious to know what would happen even in the event of a minor incident. Not trying to add fuel to the fire, but one cant help but wonder.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010 12:56 AM

What if the earth is hit by a meteor? I think people can play a "what if" game indefinitely, but time is probably better spent trying to line up a best case situation given known data.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010 1:11 AM

I can understand Sea World's concern when it comes to Tilikum's past in regards to how to interact with him. I don't see however how his size has anything to do with it. Yes, it is larger than normal in regards to Orcas, but even an orca half or even a third his size if it wants to, can drag a human being down and the human will still provide no resistance and not be able to free itself.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010 3:41 AM

Clever analogy, Rideman. It never occurred to me to maybe think of an Orca as a big ride in motion, and a trainer as a ride operator, until you made the comparison. Even if it is silly, it gave me a new perspective. Thanks.

But my God, man! "An Afternoon snack"? That was harsh and insensitive. It does, however, make a strong image that drives an interesting point home; Tilikum probably won't miss her, and probably doesn't even know that what he (she?) did was wrong.

And a sniper, majorcut? Seriously?

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Thursday, March 4, 2010 1:20 PM

Just because it's my area of expertise, Rideman, the passage you were probably looking for is Matthew 5:17. When Jesus is questioned about healing on the Sabbath, he says, "I came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it." Basically, we can't discard OT law, but we have to reinterpret it in the light of new evidence.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010 2:57 PM

^Hoping that means I need not feel guilty about bacon and shellfish? Seriously though, my understanding is that the world changes around us, and while our firmly-held core values remain intact, our understanding of how they apply to daily life MUST be able to accommodate.

...and how this applies to Tilly - new evidence suggests that the old rules weren't sufficient in and of themselves. So while we can now be safe against trichinosis by fully cooking our pork products....long hair may no longer be acceptable around orca enclosures.

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Monday, March 8, 2010 5:36 PM

Tilly has a proven track record of killing, so here is my proposal. Make reality show out of it, stick Tilly in Discover cove ;) then bring in a bunch of death row inmates and pedophiles, turn them loose in the water with Tilly. Make sure each of them has a Fish attached to them and see how many of them survive.

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