SeaWorld is to appeal a ban on its trainers having in-water contact with killer whales during public shows, as it seeks to restore one of its most popular attractions.
The Orlando Sentinel features a detailed analysis of the legal process that SeaWorld is pursuing, which could see the appeal rejected as early as Monday, July 16. As things stand, SeaWorld trainers may enter the water with killer whales for some medical and husbandry procedures, but must be separated from them by a physical barrier during live performances.
The chain has argued that the ruling by judge Ken S. Welsch had effectively imposed a double standard, and that there is no real difference between interacting with whales in private or in front of an audience. This will be the basis of its appeal against the ruling, which has prevented trainers from performing the spectacular stunts that SeaWorld regards as an important part of its offering.
Trainers have not entered the water with whales at SeaWorld parks since the death of Dawn 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.
SeaWorld has since spent tens of millions of dollars on installing new safety features at its parks in Orlando, San Diego and California. This includes 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. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has argued that these measures are not enough to ensure the safety of SeaWorld staff.