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Will SeaWorld Death End Killer Whale Shows?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

Does the tragic 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau mark the end of the theme park's famous orca stunts? The SeaWorld death not only shocked the audience on hand, it also shed light on some of the park's safety violations.

SeaWorld operates parks in Florida, Texas and California. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) filed a citation against the company after a six-month investigation into its orca program, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

The investigation was launched after Brancheau, a veteran trainer, was pulled underwater by a killer whale named Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando during a live show. Tilikum had grabbed a hold of Brancheau's ponytail, dragging her underwater. Brancheau drowned.

After Brancheau's tragic death, SeaWorld has prohibited trainers from swimming with the killer whales, the Orlando Sentinel reports. But, it hopes to resume this type of "water work" at some point. SeaWorld claims that working with trainers is essential to the care of the highly sociable - but deadly - animals.

But, SeaWorld's plans may be put on an indefinite hold. OSHA claims that SeaWorld willfully violated safety requirements, putting their trainers in danger, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

OSHA wants to fine SeaWorld $75,000 for the violations. But, as a $1.2 billion business, the fine isn't what has SeaWorld execs concerned. It's OSHA's proposal that trainers shouldn't work with killer whales at all - unless there's some sort of physical barrier present, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Currently, SeaWorld is trying to fight the results of OSHA's findings, the Orlando Sentinel reports. The physical barrier requirement set by OSHA would spell the end of trainers swimming with the whales.

After the SeaWorld death, the company says it has already started to implement new safety changes, according to the Orlando Sentinel. As a business, the company is obligated to ensure that SeaWorld trainers, who are the company's employees, are properly protected. But, what kind of safety measures can be implemented that would ensure no future deaths or accidents? Is a wall or physical barrier the only method?

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