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SeaWorld to challenge killer whale trainer death verdict in court

SeaWorld Orlando killer whales image

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment will challenge the results of a federal investigation into the death of one of its killer whale trainers in court next week.

The Orlando Sentinel features an in-depth report on the importance of the court challenge to the future of SeaWorld's marine life parks. It suggests that if the firm is unable to overturn the verdict of the investigation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration into the February 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, it may be unable to recommence shows which feature trainers in the water with killer whales.

Trainers have not entered the water with whales at SeaWorld parks since the death of trainer Brancheau on February 24, 2010. Brancheau, a 12-year veteran at SeaWorld Orlando, was killed when 30-year-old whale Tilikum pulled her into the water by her ponytail and drowned her following a show.

The OSHA has fined SeaWorld $75,000 and recommended that trainers are not allowed to enter the water with killer whales unless they are separated by a physical barrier. If adopted, this recommendation would put an end to some of SeaWorld's most spectacular stunts. However, the report does offer some hope to SeaWorld, as it suggests that other measures may be acceptable if they offer a similar level of protection.

SeaWorld has already announced plans to invest "tens of millions" of dollars to install new safety features at its parks in Orlando, San Diego and California. These will include false-bottom floors in major show venues, as well as special underwater vehicles that could be used to distract whales in the event of trainers running into difficulties. Trainers will also be equipped with breathing regulators that will provide two-to-five minutes of air in emergencies.

A new killer whale show, One Ocean, replaced the long-running Believe show at SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Antonio and SeaWorld San Diego in 2011. Aerial stunts and sections featuring multiple whales are designed to compensate for the current lack of human-whale in-water interaction.

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