The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) has refused to hear an appeal of a judge’s decision that levied a fine and conditions on SeaWorld Orlando following the killing of a trainer by a whale in 2010.
An administrative law judge’s (ALJ) decision in May required SeaWorld to keep the trainers out of the water with whales during performances or require that they be behind a protective barrier while working with them. The judge agreed with OSHA that allowing trainers to swim with killer whales during shows would endanger the park employees.
SeaWorld said it would decide within the next 60 days whether to appeal the decision to the United States Court of Appeals. The marine park company says the ALJ’s decision contained errors in fact and the law.
The judge’s decision also affirmed a citation against SeaWorld, however it reduced the severity of the violation from willful to serious which reduced the penalty from $75,000 to $12,000.
On Feb. 24, 2010, trainer Dawn Brancheau was dragged underwater by six-ton killer whale Tilikum. Following a six-month investigation, OSHA recommended trainers never again be allowed in close contact with the whales unless protected by a physical barrier or something offering the same level of protection.
SeaWorld voluntarily kept trainers out of the water during shows while the park did its own investigation into Brancheau’s death.
The marine park company is also working on its own methods to protect trainers while they’re in the water with the killer whales including a quick-rising pool floor that would lift the trainers and whales out of the water in an emergency.
When the ALJ made his ruling, he emphasized that the ban on trainers in the water only applied to public shows. The trainers can still enter the water for such reasons as taking care of the whales’ medical needs.