SeaWorld responds to new complaint filed by PETA - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

SeaWorld responds to new complaint filed by PETA

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SAN DIEGO (CNS/CBS 8) - A SeaWorld San Diego trainer and two veterinarians said Tuesday they were offended by repeated accusations of animal abuse made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PETA announced that a complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture after a veterinarian allegedly found scars and lesions on whales and dolphins at the theme park on Mission Bay.

The organization has filed at least two other complaints against the marine theme park this year. In one, the organization asked the department to look into the issue of orca whales getting sunburned while in SeaWorld's care. In the other, PETA asked that the interactions of park guests and animals be looked into after a girl was allegedly bitten by a dolphin at SeaWorld San Antonio.

Lindy Donahue, a trainer at SeaWorld San Diego's Dolphin Point exhibit, said the 1,500 employees who care for animals at the park are "extremely passionate" about the health and well-being of their animals.

"Like my colleagues, I have poured my heart into my career with these animals," Donahue said at a news conference. "I am most joyful when I'm spending one-on-one time with them, and when I get the honor to share them with our guests."

She said she believes her line of work inspires people to make "small changes" in their lives that will benefit animals.

One of the veterinarians, Todd Schmitt, said the park is accredited every five years by two organizations that oversee theme parks and is subject to two or three unannounced inspections per year by the USDA.

"We are the true animal advocates," Schmitt said. "When there's a stranded animal on the beach or a whale entangled by fish line, the public doesn't call PETA. They call SeaWorld because they know we have the resources to take care of that animal and provide the best care possible."

Schmitt and fellow veterinarian Hendrik Nollens questioned the experience of the PETA veterinarian who made the latest claims. They said marks on marine mammals are common occurrences and not a sign of abuse.

SeaWorld has previously responded to PETA allegations by issuing a news release. Nollens said they called the news conference because they no longer want to sit back and take the repeated allegations.

Though PETA has blasted SeaWorld parks for years for using captive animals to entertain humans, the organization has ramped up its efforts against the marine theme park since the release of "Blackfish."

The documentary, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013, explores the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando. Brancheau was drowned by an orca. Since her death, trainers have not been allowed in the water with orcas during the park's famed Shamu shows.

In addition to filing complaints with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, PETA has launched a media campaign against SeaWorld which, among other things, has included large anti-SeaWorld billboards being posted for tourists to see at Lindbergh Field.

The PETA veterinarian, Heather Rally, contends that she found scars and lesions on dolphins, orcas and other animals; witnessed unprotected and unsupervised contact between visitors and aggressive animals; and observed listless animals engaging in abnormal, repetitive behavior likely caused by stress. Those are apparent violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, according to the organization.

"I personally observed animals in cramped conditions," Rally said. "During my first visit to SeaWorld I personally observed two dolphins who were aggressively chasing and biting one another."

"This veterinary report confirms that SeaWorld is causing animals to suffer both physically and psychologically in hopelessly inadequate tanks," said PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. "PETA is asking families to stay far away from SeaWorld, where deprived orcas can do nothing but swim in endless circles, stressed dolphins take their aggression out on one another, and a walrus in solitary confinement is reduced to regurgitating his food out of boredom."

Nollens said walruses suck clams out of mud when they feed, and they're not regurgitating but merely ridding their mouths of debris.

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