July 20, 2024

Legislators Respond To The Death of Sea World Trainer Dawn Brancheau

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Earlier this year, lawmaker Richard Brown set out to change federal statutes and regulations and, ultimately, legislative history. Brown, undoubtedly inspired and incensed by the famous documentary Blackfish, proposed a bill that would officially ban killer whale shows at Sea World San Diego — and even call for their release into much larger and more accommodating sea pens. What happened?

Killer Whales in Captivity Remains A Contentious Issue

“The bill would have banned the import, export, and breeding of orcas while requiring Sea World San Diego to move its 10 killer whales out of tanks and into larger sea pens,” ABC News explains. Calfornia officials, and scientists, researchers, and advocacy groups all over the U.S., are still largely divided on the issue. In short, courts were not ready to change legal statutes, statuatory history, and legislative intent. The decision has been tabled for at least a year — to give scientists time to shed light on the issue. For those unfamiliar with the film, Blackfish follows a killer whale named Tilikum and the tragic death of Sea World Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau. In front of park patrons and spectators, Tilikum pulled Brancheau underwater, and she ultimately drowned.

Are Orca Whales Too Self-Aware To Keep In Captivity?

What does legislative history — as of it stands — has to say about whales, and what questions are people raising in light of the film? According to current law (one of them fairly new), trainers can no longer be in the water with killer whales. This laws was put into place shortly after Brancheau’s death, with support from the Supreme Court and The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Others, however, are raising new questions, like whether whales’ family structures are too complex — or whether they are too intelligent — to be kept in captivity.

Brown nearly changed the history of California law, and he may very well do just that, given time.

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