Court Upholds Killer Whale Safety Ruling Against SeaWorld

"A SeaWorld trainer performs with a killer whale during the first show after an orca killed a trainer at theme park three days earlier in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010."

SeaWorld acted irresponsibly as an employer by exposing trainers to "recognized hazards" when they worked with killer whales, a U.S. appeals court in Washington, D.C. confirmed Friday.
The ruling, in a case which goes back to the death of a trainer at SeaWorld's Orlando theme park in 2010, could mean the company will have to increase the separation between trainers and whales during its highly successful live shows Reuters reports.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit's ruling upholds a previous finding by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA fined SeaWorld $75,000 in August 2010 following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in February of that same year.
A 12,000-pound bull orca dragged Brancheau underwater and killed her as shocked park visitors watched. SeaWorld's fine was later reduced to $12,000.
More important than the fine from SeaWorld's perspective, however, was whether OSHA exceeded its authority in regulating an atypical workplace by general federal safety laws. The appeals court ruled that the agency acted correctly.
Judge Judith Rogers wrote that stricter safety regulations — such as physical barriers between whales and trainers, or more room separating the two — "does not change the essential nature of the business," and the company can still successfully put on its shows, Reuters reports.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote that people who work in unusual, and often dangerous, positions in the sports and entertainment fields understand the risks to which they expose themselves.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment operates three SeaWorld parks in the U.S., as well as several others under other names.
"SeaWorld remains committed to providing a safe workplace for employees, healthy environments for the animals in our care, and inspirational and educational experiences with killer whales for our guests," the company said in an e-mailed statement. "We are still reviewing the opinion and no decision has been made on whether we will appeal."
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