Sea World options dwindle on failed appeal

Date Posted
Mike Rich

A federal panel will not consider Sea Worlds appeal to overturn a judge’s ruling preventing animal trainers from having direct contact with killer whales.

The ruling stems from the Feb. 24, 2010, death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was attacked by a six-ton killer whale.

OSHA spent six months investigating the amusement parks  killer-whale program following the tragedy, ultimately charging SeaWorld with a “willful” safety violation — its most severe classification — and recommending that trainers never again be allowed in close contact with the animals unless protected by a physical barrier or something offering the same level of protection.

SeaWorld challenged the recommendation before the independent OSHA review commission. SeaWorld and OSHA spent two weeks calling witnesses and arguing before administrative law judge Ken Welsch.

After several months of deliberating Welsch agreed to dismiss the “willful” classification, but kept in place a provision that trainers must be protected from killer whales by physical barriers.

The only other legal option for SeaWorld to have the provision for trainers having contact with animals removed  is to go to a US circuit Court of Appeals — and after that, conceivably but implausibly, the Supreme Court

“SeaWorld will decide within the next 60 days whether to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals,” the company said in a written statement. “SeaWorld remains dedicated to the safety of its employees and wellbeing of its animals.”

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