Orca Trainers, SeaWorld

New Safety Measures Require SeaWorld Orca Trainers To Wear Safety Vests

In a fresh new safety measure, trainers at the SeaWorld Marine parks dotted across the US would have to wear inflatable safety vests when working near Killer Whales. These large marine mammals, also known as Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family and have been in the past involved in the deaths of a few people – including a few at SeaWorld. The latest safety measure however is the result of a tragic 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau who was dragged and pulled into the pool by an Orca named Tilikum. The incident happened at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium in Orlando. The gruesome death was watched by hundreds of spectators.

As for the new SeaWorld safety vests, according to the Associated Press, these weigh over five pounds and can be inflated like an airplane life jacket. It has a tube that is connected to a small oxygen tank located inside a pouch at the back. According to SeaWorld curator Kelly Flaherty Clark, the vests are the results of three years of research and development. Inputs from trainers, engineers and safety experts were considered before homing in on the final design. The prime purpose of these vests is to buy time for the trainer to be rescued in case the trainer fell into the SeaWorld pool and the Orca attacks.

All the 22 trainers working at the SeaWorld Shamu Stadium have been trained to use these vests. According to Clark, the vest is “easy to use.” She adds, “It’s one of many changes that SeaWorld has made in the last four years.”

The other changes that the SeaWorld official referred to include remotely controlled pool gates, new walkways around the Stadium and a raised platform in the pool that contains the orca. This would be used to lift the Orca out of water in case a trainer falls in. SeaWorld officials however add that the addition of the vests would be the most visible of these changes.

Meanwhile, SeaWorld officials have said that these latest changes are not in response to the decision by an appellate court in Washington to uphold a finding by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission that framed SeaWorld for exposing trainers to hazard when they were in close contact with the Orcas.

The SeaWorld Killer whale Tilikum which was the cause of these new changes was also a part of a controversial documentary film “Blackfish” which argues that Tilikum might have gone aggressive due to the stress created by the long duration he has spent in captivity. Orcas are social animals and have a strong family set up and complex relationships. For years, Tilikum has been kept in captivity with little contact with other Killer Whales – except during breeding periods.

Do you think SeaWorld’s safety record would improve with these changes?

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]

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