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SeaWorld to Contest $75,000 Fine for Orca Trainer's Death

Aug 23, 2010 – 4:47 PM
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David Knowles

David Knowles Writer

(Aug. 23) -- When it comes housing killer whales in captivity, the word "safety" may be a relative term.

On Monday, six months after trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by a 12,000-pound orca whale during an exhibition at SeaWorld's Orlando, Fla., theme park, officials at the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that SeaWorld was being fined $75,000 for what it called the theme park's "plain indifference" to the safety of its employees.

Brancheau died after the whale, named Tilikum, grabbed her by her ponytail and pulled her underwater. OSHA contends that Tilikum was involved in two other incidents that resulted in human deaths, and that the park knowingly put Brancheau and other trainers at risk.

"SeaWorld recognized the inherent risk of allowing trainers to interact with potentially dangerous animals," Cindy Coe, an OSHA administrator, said in a statement released on the agency's website. "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."

Of course, the interaction of trainers and dangerous animals has been at the heart of SeaWorld's killer whale shows for years. The corporate theme park wasted little time in letting the world know that it would fight OSHA's fine, sending the following message via its Twitter feed:

SeaWorld disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA and will contest the agency's citation than a minute ago via HootSuite

On its blog, SeaWorld went on to defend itself:
OSHA's 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.
SeaWorld's argument is strikingly similar to the language it used in 2007, after OSHA and the state of California both issued reports criticizing the safety of whale trainers following two other incidents. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health report was "highly speculative and not supported by scientific fact," SeaWorld stated at the time.

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