An OSHA investigation will determine whether any safety protocols were broken in connection with the drowning of a trainer by a killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando.
SeaWorld officials say they are reviewing safety and training rules it has in place for interacting with all killer whales at all three of its parks.
Shows with the whales were expected to continue. Trainers won’t enter the water with the whales until the investigation into the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau is completed.
Meanwhile, the former head of animal training at SeaWorld Orlando says rules for handling the killer whales that were in place during his tenure had either been broken or changed.
Thad Lacinak says there were special rules for dealing with Tilikum, the largest whale of his species in captivity.
Because of his size and involvement in the deaths of a trainer at another park in 1991 and a guest at SeaWorld in 1999, Lacinak said a trainer should not have been lying down in the water close to Tilikum as Brancheau did before the attack.
Lacinak said the attack was triggered by the trainer’s mistake, allowing her long ponytail to drift in the water in front of the whale.
He says the whale probably thought the ponytail was a new toy, and that’s why it dragged Brancheau underwater by her hair.
Meanwhile, a report in the Orlando Sentinel says SeaWorld has a policy forbidding its killer-whale trainers from having dangling hair that the animals could grab.
That information was contained in a Cal/OSHA report about a 2006 incident at the company’s San Diego park in which an orca grabbed a trainer by the feet and held him underwater. The trainer suffered injuries to his feet.
The Cal/OSHA report was controversial for another reason. It originally stated, “If someone hasn’t been killed already, it is only a matter of time before it does happen,” regarding trainers working with the whales.
However, after SeaWorld criticized the original report and met with Cal/OSHA officials, that language was taken out of the final report.
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