on Monday for allowing animal trainers to work with killer whales
without adequate protection, concluding a six-month investigation into
the violent drowning of a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando.
Investigators with the
But they also recommended that trainers not be permitted to continue
swimming or working in close contact with the company’s smaller killer
whales — unless
The agency proposed fines totaling
administrator in charge of the southeastern U.S., said in a prepared
statement. “Nonetheless, it required its employees to work within the
pool walls, on ledges and on shelves where they were subject to
dangerous behavior by the animals.”
In its written statement,
trainers had an extensive history of unexpected and potentially
dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities.
… Despite this record, management failed to make meaningful changes
to improve the safety of the work environment for its employees.”
allegations in this citation are unsupported by any evidence or
precedent and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety
requirements associated with marine mammal care.”
The closely watched federal investigation, sparked by the worst tragedy in
for one “willful” workplace-safety violation — a particularly harsh
category that the agency defines as a violation committed “with plain
indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and
violations that it discovered during its probe but which were unrelated
to Brancheau’s death.
As part of the main citation, the agency singled out
interactions with Tilikum, an animal that investigators said had “known
aggressive tendencies” because he was one of three killer whales who
drowned another trainer at a Canadian marine park nearly 20 years ago.
cited the company for still allowing “unprotected contact” by
permitting trainers to work with the animal from tank edges and
shallow, underwater ledges.
one of those underwater ledges when the killer whale grabbed her by her
long ponytail and pulled her underwater.
could eliminate the hazard by not allowing trainers to work with
Tilikum again unless they were separated from the animal by a physical
close contact with Tilikum since Brancheau’s death. A spokesman for the
company said Monday that change in policy is permanent.
said trainers should not be allowed to swim with the remaining orcas
unless they are protected by a physical barrier or “through the use of
decking systems, oxygen supply systems or other engineering or
administrative controls that provide the same or a greater level of
protection for the trainer.”
The recommendation leaves an opening for
to allow its trainers to re-enter the water with killer whales once the
company completes its own safety review and implements procedural or
While the company has not permitted trainers to get
into the orca tanks since Brancheau’s death, it indicated Monday that
it eventually expects to do so once its internal review is complete.
reviewed by a panel of experts from outside aquariums and marine
institutions — ranging from Marineland in
“The safety of
killer whale program was already a model for marine zoological
facilities around the world and the changes we are now undertaking in
personal safety, facility design and communication will make the
display of killer whales at
said. “It also is important to note that while maintaining a safe
environment for our trainers, the demands of humane care require our
zoological team to work in close physical proximity to these animals.”
changes it expects to make because, it said, its own review process is
not completed. But in an e-mail to employees, SeaWorld Parks Chief
“Although the highest price has been paid, by
implementing these ideas, their currently exemplary program should
emerge better equipped to ensure the welfare of both trainers and
animals,” the panel said, according to Atchison’s e-mail.
lesser citations: one for not installing stairway railings on two
bridges on the stage used for “Believe” killer-whale shows, and the
other for not equipping outdoor electrical receptacles around
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