The OSHA case against SeaWorld Orlando in the death of killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau reached a mixed verdict today. On the one hand the judge ruled SeaWorld’s violation was not willful, merely serious, and reduced the fine from $75,000 to $12,000. But the judge sided with OSHA’s ruling that a barrier between trainers and the killer whales is ‘feasible’ and should be the standard of care going forward to ensure worker safety when dealing with the large ocean creatures.
Obviously, this is not the news SeaWorld wanted to hear. They’ve been developing technologies that they believe will safely allow trainers to get back in the water with the Killer Whales. Things will likely continue much as they are now while SeaWorld decides what to do about this case. Killer Whale care and training has been on going since Nov 2010 without trainers getting in the water and the park hasn’t had to shut down its shows or publicized how the change has been harming the whales. On the other hand, there is such a thing as historical fact. And the fact is that incidents with Killer Whales and trainers are very rare, no one wants a trainer to die like Dawn did, but there plenty of good reasons for trainers to be in the water with the killer whales, not just in the show, but behind the scenes for health and welfare of the animals themselves.
I’d like to check out the judges ruling first hand to see what else he’s observed. I suspect too much deference was given to OSHA over the experts SeaWorld presented and that an appeal will level things out.