SeaWorld fights fine over orca death
Sanford - SeaWorld Orlando's policy of relying on trainers to recognise when a killer whale poses a safety threat leaves gaps that can lead to injury or death, a government attorney said on Monday in support of safety citations issued to the theme park after a trainer's death.
The park is arguing during a Monday hearing the three citations are unfounded. They were issued after trainer Dawn Brancheau was pulled underwater by an orca last year and drowned.
"Whales are large, powerful”, said John Black, an attorney for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
SeaWorld attorney Carla Gunnin told the administrative law judge hearing the case that the resort has a history of rescuing marine animals and is a leader in marine mammal research.
Administrative Law Judge Ken Welsch said his role was not to determine if whales should be held in captivity or if the theme park resort is responsible for the accident, but to decide the merit of the three OSHA citations given to SeaWorld.
Brancheau died on February 24 2010, when a killer whale named Tilikum grabbed her hair and violently dragged her underwater. The medical examiner said she drowned and suffered traumatic injuries.
Brancheau's husband was attending the hearing and was accompanied by attorneys representing the Brancheau family if OSHA chooses to show videos and photos taken during the trainer's death.
Family members have argued showing them would be a violation of privacy. A federal judge last week ruled that OSHA may use the images at the hearing if attorneys choose to do so.
The first of the three citations by OSHA claimed SeaWorld exposed its workers to drowning hazards and the chance of being struck during interactions with killer whales.
The federal agency noted in the citation that Tilikum also was involved in the death of a trainer at a marine park in British Columbia in 1991.
The agency recommended putting physical barriers between trainers and killer whales.
The second citation said SeaWorld failed to install a stairway railing system on the stage in Shamu Stadium, where the killer whale show, Believe, took place.
The citation said a section of the stage without a railing had a 3m drop.
A third citation said SeaWorld failed to equip outdoor electrical receptacles in Shamu Stadium with weatherproof enclosures.