| SAN DIEGO, Sept 21
SAN DIEGO, Sept 21 SeaWorld has appealed a
federal ruling that has kept its trainers from swimming with
killer whales during public performances, as the theme park
company said on Friday that physical contact between animals and
their human minders was essential to its operations.
The ruling followed the 2010 death of Florida trainer Dawn
Brancheau, who was killed by the orca Tilikum in front of
horrified spectators at a SeaWorld show in Orlando, Florida.
SeaWorld's decision to appeal the ruling is the latest
episode in its conflict with federal workplace regulators over
the safety of trainers who work with the killer whales. The
company, which is owned by private equity firm Blackstone Group,
has parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio.
SeaWorld said in a statement on Friday that the safety of
team members and guests and the welfare of animals remained its
"We have added numerous safety measures to our already
industry-leading killer whale program," the company said. "It
should be noted that physical contact and in-water interaction
with these animals is a critical component of both husbandry and
In May, Administrative Law Judge Ken Welsch upheld federal
safety violations against the company for exposing employees to
serious injury or death, saying measures such as physical
barriers between whale and trainer, or oxygen tanks for the
humans, were feasible solutions.
SeaWorld has not allowed trainers into the water with killer
whales during shows since Branchau's death, and that policy has
remained in place since the ruling by Welsch.
But the company has sought to win back the ability to put
trainers in the water with killer whales in front of spectators.
SeaWorld in July asked the U.S. Occupational Safety and
Health Review Commission to reconsider the ruling, but the
agency turned down SeaWorld's request later that month.
The appeal was filed on Sept. 7 in the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the District of Columbia, and was first reported by the San
Diego-Union Tribune this week.
The petition does not specifically cite the restrictions on
placing trainers in the water with orcas, but asks for an
overall review of Welsch's ruling.
OSHA officials in Florida and Washington were not available
to comment late on Friday.
In his ruling in May, Welsch wrote that the restrictions on
close contact between orcas and their trainers should be limited
to show performances because SeaWorld "has an ethical duty to
provide health and medical care" to the animals.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Peter Cooney)