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Whistleblower complaint by ex-SeaWorld chief Linda Simons claims negligence in drowning of trainer

August 24, 2010
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From NY Daily News
By Helen Kennedy

A nasty public battle is breaking out Monday between SeaWorld and its former safety chief, who claims gross negligence led to the horrific drowning of a trainer by a killer whale.

In response, SeaWorld called ex-safety chief Linda Simons an extortionist, saying she threatened to go public with “false allegations” unless she got paid.

Simons told the Daily News she was fired for talking too much with the federal investigators who were probing the February drowning of trainer Dawn Brancheau by the killer whale Tilikum. Simons, who started work at SeaWorld in Orlando one week before the drowning, has filed a federal whistleblower complaint.

She says that just two weeks before the drowning, SeaWorld held a safety drill that went so badly – staffers didn’t show up or barely paid attention – that it was scheduled to be repeated a month later.

“It went so poorly that they stopped the drill and were going to have another one,” Simons told The News.

They didn’t have time.

When the 6-ton killer whale pulled Brancheau under by her ponytail on Feb. 24, the response was “very chaotic,” she said. As tourists watched in horror, Tilikum dragged Brancheau around the tank, scalping her and breaking her neck as well as drowning her. It took 30 minutes to retrieve her body.

Simons claims SeaWorld withheld documents from Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators and blocked interviews with trainers that might have been critical.

Late Sunday, after Simons talked to The News, SeaWorld issued a statement saying she has been using “the threat of negative publicity to seek a sizable monetary payment from SeaWorld in exchange for her not going public with these false allegations.”

SeaWorld said Simons was fired for “poor performance” during the OSHA inspection of Brancheau’s death, and that she “demonstrated an inability to conduct herself to the acceptable standard of competence, transparency, integrity or professionalism.”

Simons has begun helping People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a radical animal rights group that is asking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to appoint a special prosecutor to charge SeaWorld execs with involuntary manslaughter.

Brancheau, 40, broke park rules by lying on a submerged ledge in the tank with Tilikum, who had previously killed two other people by pulling them under water. Simons said the whale was considered so dangerous that new workers were routinely warned that anyone who entered his pool would “come out a corpse.” But Brancheau regularly was allowed to play with the orca as if he were “her puppy dog,” Simons said.

The OSHA report due out today is much awaited in South Florida, where SeaWorld employs 6,000 people and attracts 6 million visitors a year to see trainers swim with killer whales.

The only thing that will prevent misery and death in the future is for SeaWorld to stop capturing and confining wild marine mammals and to let these orcas go,” said Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

RELATED:
SeaWorld hit with $70,000 fine for ‘willfully’ endangering trainer Dawn Blancheau, killed by whale
From NY Daily News
By Helen Kennedy

The federal workplace safety agency slapped SeaWorld with a fine Monday for “willfully” endangering the life of the trainer who was battered, scalped and drowned by a killer whale.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also recommended that SeaWorld stop putting trainers in the water with orcas without installing a barrier, a deck or an emergency underwater oxygen supply.

Animal rights groups called on SeaWorld to halt the popular water shows altogether and return all their killer whales to the ocean.

OSHA fined the Florida water park $70,000 for the February death of Dawn Blancheau, saying she was routinely allowed to get too close to Tilikum, a giant orca that had killed twice before.

Even though trainers were forbidden from getting into Tilikum’s tank, Blancheau would regularly lie on a submerged ledge and pet the 6-ton orca while park visitors snapped photos.

On February 24, the killer whale idly grabbed her by the ponytail and dragged her under.

OSHA investigators found that SeaWorld had a long history of killer whales doing “unexpected and potentially dangerous” things that threatened employees.

“Despite this record, management failed to make meaningful changes to improve the safety of the work environment for its employees,” the agency said.

The much-awaited report bolsters the account of Linda Simons, the former SeaWorld safety chief turned whistleblower who told the Daily News Sunday that negligence led to Blancheau’s horrific death.

SeaWorld execs, who called Simons a liar, also dismissed the OSHA report as “unsupported by any evidence.”

“We look forward to challenging OSHA’s unfounded allegations and are confident that we will prevail,” the Orlando, Fla., company said.

“The fact that there have been so few incidents over more than 2 million separate interactions with killer whales is evidence not just of SeaWorld’s commitment to safety, but to the success of that training and the skill and professionalism of our staff.”

Animal rights groups hailed the OSHA report and said it was time to free Tilikum and the other killer whales.

“The only thing that will prevent misery and death in the future is for SeaWorld to stop capturing and confining wild marine mammals and to let these orcas go,” said Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PETA is also urging Florida officials to prosecute SeaWorld execs for involuntary manslaughter.

The Humane Society said killer whales should not be held in tanks and made to perform tricks.

“Orcas are inherently unsuited for captivity. They are large, socially complex, highly intelligent, and long-lived predators, living as long as humans do,” the Humane Society said.

Tilikum, who was captured at age 2 off the coast of Iceland in 1983, killed a trainer who fell into his pool 19 years ago in Canada and in 1999 was found with the corpse of a man who had jumped a SeaWorld fence draped over his back.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Cris permalink
    August 25, 2010 9:18 am

    First, animals are not murderers in normal and natural exsitência! Why nobody talks about the stress of the animal? Think, every animal has its DNA in the physiological and whales are not born to stay in a confined space with sound and loud music! Born to swim miles and miles, playing freely with other whales.
    The whole world does not want to know about shows that we humans ignorant, we impose our will on nature and animals, for “to think that everything we know” because we studied.
    Close the doors SEA WORLD! Release the whales! Animals in captivity can live in freedom rather, lies in its programming and memory cell!
    Do it! I think the SEA WORLD does not want is to lose the investment $ $ $ “freeing the whales!”

    Like

    • Stacey permalink
      August 25, 2010 9:30 am

      Agreed!

      And that’s the thing, Cris, people love murdering animals who attack humans. Why haven’t they yet killed Tilikum? He’s too profitable, they are such nasty greedy sucks that they would rather imprison a wild animal who has a (LEGITIMATE) history of acting defensively as opposed to setting him free. They are nothing but slimy, ignorant, cruel, speciesist sucks, compromising the lives of ALL in order to hear the jingle in their pockets louder. They’re degenerate losers who have zero morals and endless self-indulgence.

      Like

  2. MICHELLE MOREL permalink
    September 26, 2010 3:02 pm

    I KNOW IT WAS NOT NICE FOR THIS TRAINER TO DIE THIS WAY AND I THINK SHE WAS SILLY THINKING SHE KNEW THIS ANIMAL BEST BEING THAT IT WAS A WILD ANIMAL FIRST AND HAS ALREADY KILLED TWICE BEFORE BUT SHE DIED DOING WHAT SHE ENJOYED AND THOUGHT BEST SO SAD TO SHUT THE GATE TO SPEAK AFTER THE DAMAGE

    Like

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