ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JANUARY 22, 2014
Sorry Fred H, but I gotta do this one.
Right now, the annual dolphin massacre is taking place in Taiji, Japan. This is a horrible event that everybody should find offensive. I want to thank the Sea Shepherds and their Cove Guardians and Ric O’Barry and his Dolphin Project volunteers for being on the scene, streaming this travesty live, and making the world see for itself.
Every year, more and more dolphins are captured during the Taiji drive fishery and sold to the expanding aquarium and theme park market in Asia, especially China. This year, that included a rare albino bottlenose calf. I’ve said before on this blog that I’m not into animal rights, I’m into animal welfare. We cannot use the “captivity is wrong” statement here and pretend these animals can suddenly be freed. The truth is that they’re moving on to new quarters whether we like it or not and if we really want to work in the animals’ best interests, perhaps we should look at making sure the facilities in Asia and the husbandry of these animals meets and exceeds acceptable standards until such point as they logistically and politically can be returned to the wild. I’m also well aware of SeaWorld’s history with the drive fisheries and the current allegations but I’m not going to discuss them here as you can find them elsewhere on the web. A head’s up: if you try to post a comment on this blog about SeaWorld and drive fisheries, it likely will not be approved. Right now, we should be concentrating on the situation in Asia.
Now on to Lara Padgett. On Monday, MiceChat unveiled photos of Ms. Padgett (scroll down on link), the lead investigator in OSHA’s case against SeaWorld following Dawn Brancheau’s death, with the cast and crew of Blackfish. Two photos are included, one at the New York premiere of the film and the other at Sundance. I have quite a few photos I’ve amassed over the past few months of Ms. Padgett at the Sundance premiere in January 2013, the Sarasota Film Festival in April, and the NY premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in June. I’m not going to share them here as that would be grandstanding and that’s not my intent with this post. Rather, a brief comment:
First of all, Ms. Padgett is welcome to hold any beliefs she may have and to fraternize with whomever she wishes. I fully respect that.
Blackfish producer Tim Zimmermann tweeted in response to the MiceChat piece that she was there to meet with the former trainers as part of her job. I find this confusing. OSHA issued its citation on August 23, 2010. On June 11, 2011, Judge Welsch upheld the OSHA citation. Since then, there’s been a lot of back and forth with requests for extensions, new court decissions, reinspections of Shamu Stadium, and an OSHA petition to support subpoenas in December 2012 to interview SeaWorld managers. So I just don’t understand why this investigation required her to travel to three different premieres of the film in three different parts of the country in 2013. I’m also confused as to how walking the red carpet at these events is part of her duties as an OSHA investigator. If she was there to interview the trainers as part of her investigation, then one can assume that her travel expenses were either paid for or reimbursed by OSHA. If that is the case, then I, as a tax payer, find this a potential misappropriation of government funds as she could just as easily have ascertained the information via phone, email, or skype.
If she attended the events of her own volition, purchased her own tickets, and personally handled her own expenses, there might not be an issue. If she accepted a personal invitation to the screenings, I don’t see any problems as long as the value of tickets to all three screenings and any others of Blackfish that she attended as a non-paying guest did not exceed $50. If any part of her trip was paid for or free services, such as accommodations or meals, were provided or arranged for her by individuals with a vested interest in the case, she may be in violation of Federal ethics codes. All of the individuals associated with Blackfish that appeared at these screenings are outspoken in their criticism of SeaWorld. This includes two of the former trainers, Carol Ray and Samantha Berg, who were plaintiffs in a case to free five SeaWorld orcas under the terms of the 13th Amendment. It would also be appropriate to question if SeaWorld had provided free tickets had she been seen at a Busch Gardens park during the same period. During the time she appeared at the three events, she was a witness for the government in SeaWorld’s appeals case against the Department of Labor and OSHA. She attended the Sarasota Film Festival with four of the former trainers featured in the film, its director, and its producer only twenty days before she was listed on a court docket as testifying in the appeals trial.
I should add that if any member of the Blackfish cast or crew provided Ms. Padgett with services or paid for her trips, they have not committed any wrongdoing (unless it’s attached to the sharing of confidential information in the case, which Mr. Zimmermann has assured the press did not take place). The culpability lies with Ms. Padgett as a Federal official.
You’ll find the standards of ethical conduct for the Executive Branch here. Feel free to share your thoughts are on the matter.