The court turned down Seaworld’s appeal in a 2-1 decision. "The administrative record establishes that SeaWorld did not lack fair notice because the hazard arising from trainers' close contact with killer whales in performance is preventable.”
"The D.C. Circuit Court found that SeaWorld knew about the hazards associated with killer whale performances, and that the company did not adequately address those hazards,” according to the Department of Labor.
The citations steam from the death of Dawn Brancheau, a highly experienced trainer who was dragged into the water and killed by a 12,000-pound killer whale named Tilikum. The incident occurred in front of a horrified audience at SeaWorld's park in Orlando.
Physical barriers required
Following an OSHA investigation into the fatality, the agency moved to require physical barriers in the water between trainers and killer whales, in order to reduce the risk of injury or death.
SeaWorld says it put new safety measures in place following Brancheau’s death, including removing trainers from the water during shows. “In so noting in its opinion, the court acknowledged that there will still be human interactions and performances with killer whales and, according to the court, the decision simply requires that we continue with increased safety measures during our shows," the company said in a statement.
Cruel treatment in captivity
The court decision follows controversy over a documentary about the fatality entited, “Blackfish.” The film features footage and interviews and shows what its producers say is the cruel treatment killer whales receive in captivity and the pressures brought to bear on trainers by the multi-billion dollar seapark industry.
SeaWorld claims that one of the OSHA inspectors who handled the Brancheau investigation was involved with the making of “Blackfish” and is demanding an ethics probe into the matter.