killer whales seaworld lolita tilikum training endangered species blackfish documentary
In this Monday, March 7, 2011 photo, killer whale Tilikum, right, watches as SeaWorld Orlando trainers take a break during a training session at the theme park's Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Fla. (AP)

SeaWorld Strikes Back at OSHA

Questions investigator's ethics

killer whales seaworld lolita tilikum training endangered species blackfish documentary

SeaWorld filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday, asking the agency to review the conduct of Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigator (OSHA) Lara Padgett. In 2010, Padgett led the probe inspecting SeaWorld’s safety practices following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was pulled underwater and drowned by the whale Tilikum.

The New York Times reports that SeaWorld is accusing Padgett of having an improper relationship with animal-rights activists and leaking confidential documents to makers of the documentary Blackfish. With this filing, SeaWorld is demanding that Padgett be removed from oversight of its parks while her conduct is under review.

The SeaWorld complaint comes on the heels of an OSHA internal investigation into Padgett’s conduct. In January 2014, the agency launched an investigation a year after Park City, Utah’s Local 6 news reported that Padgett spent several nights at a rental house she shared with the filmmakers and former SeaWorld employees who appear in the film.

According to OSHA policy, “no employee shall solicit, accept, or agree to accept any form of gratuity where a conflict of interest situation may arise.”

Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite denied any conflict of interest, telling the New York Times, “That’s just so patently wrong.” She added, “People crashed there. At Sundance, that’s what people do.”

Read more about the controversy surrounding Dawn Brancheau’s death in our 2010 feature “The Killer in the Pool.”

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021
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Lead Photo: AP