The company that operates SeaWorld theme parks and the California agency responsible for protecting the state’s workers are clashing in court. SeaWorld Entertainment is contesting four citations issued by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health in April alleging that measures used to protect employees who work closely with killer whales are insufficient.
Proposed penalties for the citations are $25. The company reported sales of $606 million for the first six months of the year.
The legal proceedings are playing out against a larger backdrop that includes the 2010 drowning death of killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by a 12,000-pound orca in front of a horrified Orlando audience, the release of “Blackfish,” a documentary film which was heavily critical of the theme park’s treatment of captive animals and social media-amplified incidents like a recommendation by Harry Styles of the band One Direction to boycott SeaWorld.
The company has modified procedures since Brancheau’s death. While killer whales and trainers no longer perform together during shows, their behind-the-scenes training and interactions lack adequate safeguards, according to Cal/OSHA.
According to news sources, SeaWorld attorney Larry Iser accused the state of being influenced by an anti-SeaWorld agenda promoted by animal rights activists. Iser said he would show that the park has physical features in place to protect workers and uses veterinarians to ensure that interactions between people and whales are safe.
Division of Occupational Safety and Health Attorney Melissa Peters contended that the park’s procedures do not protect those who must work in close proximity to killer whales.
SeaWorld contested the citations it received for conditions leading to Brancheau's death. It lost that court battle and was ordered to make changes to better protect employees. It appealed the court's decision and lost the appeal.
The current legal proceedings are expected to be lengthy.