US Judge: SeaWorld trainers need protection from killer whales
A U.S. judge ordered SeaWorld to protect its trainers from killer whales during performances to avert future tragedies following the death of a Florida trainer in 2010.
The ruling came in a fight over safety violations cited by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) against SeaWorld in the death of Dawn Brancheau, who was killed in front of horrified spectators at a SeaWorld show in Orlando when a 29-year-old male killer whale named Tilikum dragged her underwater.
Administrative Law Judge Ken Welsch upheld federal safety violations against the theme park company for exposing employees to serious injury or death, saying measures such as physical barriers between whale and trainer, or oxygen tanks for the humans, were feasible solutions.
Welsch reduced the fines SeaWorld must pay to $12,000 from $75,000. SeaWorld Orlando was fined $5,000 for inadequate stair railings and $7,000 for not protecting trainers from the killer whale during performances.
SeaWorld, which is owned by the private equity firm Blackstone Group and also has parks in San Diego and San Antonio, can propose alternate solutions but the ruling could put an end to the spectacle of a human trainer riding the back of an orca, as killer whales are also known.
In a ruling sent to the parties on Wednesday and due to take effect on June 11, Welsch said it was technically and economically feasible to enact the safety measures proposed by OSHA.
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