A federal appeals court has ruled SeaWorld must provide more protection for trainers working with killer whales at its Orlando park, as ordered by OSHA.
Specifically, SeaWorld trainers must be protected by physical barriers or sufficient distance from the whales. The marine park had argued that following OSHA’s order would fundamentally change its business.
However, the majority opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals of Washington, DC, stated:
“The remedy imposed for SeaWorld’s violations does not change the essential nature of its business. There will still be human interactions and performances with killer whales; the remedy will simply require that they continue with increased safety measures.”
The court ruling also upholds fines against SeaWorld in connection with the drowning death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. A killer whale, Tilikum, pulled Brancheau underwater.
In a written statement, SeaWorld said it was “obviously disappointed” and was reviewing the decision. The park’s next appeal would be to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it hasn’t decided yet whether to take the case to the nation’s highest court.
The court’s ruling wasn’t unanimous. One of the three judges wrote a dissent, stating OSHA had entered a new regulatory area and predicting this could lead to even more OSHA enforcement in entertainment and sports businesses.
However the two judges in the majority opinion rejected that notion, saying this ruling is unique to SeaWorld and doesn’t point to additional OSHA regulation of entertainment or sports businesses.
The Orlando Sentinel reports SeaWorld had already been abiding by the OSHA-imposed restrictions with Tilikum but not with other killer whales.
In the majority opinion, the judges criticized SeaWorld for shifting safety responsibility from itself to its animal trainers.
OSHA released this statement on the court ruling:
“The Labor Department is pleased that the courts have consistently upheld our position that killer whales pose a danger to employees who are not adequately protected, and further upheld the rights of workers in this country to return home safe and healthy each day.”
What do you think about the court’s ruling? Let us know in the comments.
(SeaWorld of Florida LLC v. U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Dist. Crt. for the District of Columbia, No. 12-1375, 4/11/14)