SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - SeaWorld and California regulators said on Wednesday they have reached a settlement over allegations that the marine park did not properly train its employees to interact with its famed killer whales.
Four citations, with combined possible fines of up to $25,770, were issued in April by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health against the San Diego amusement park.
SeaWorld trainers have not been in the water with the killer whales during shows since 2010, when a trainer at its Orlando, Florida, park was killed by an orca during a performance.
During training and medical care however, staff interact closely with the marine mammals and the citations claimed the park had ineffective training and measures for ensuring worker safety in the pools.
One citation said SeaWorld also required staff to sign a confidentiality agreement that discouraged them from reporting hazards.
“The goal here in California is protecting worker safety and this settlement does improve the safety of SeaWorld employees,” said agency spokeswoman Erika Monterroza.
Once the settlement is approved, which Monterroza said was expected to occur at the department’s next meeting on Jan. 21, trainers will no longer be allowed to swim under or ride on the killer whales in the medical pool, nor will they be able to stand on the animals except to get out of the tank.
SeaWorld announced the pending settlement on its SeaWorldCares website on Wednesday, saying the resolution was based largely on their existing safety protocol.
“This decision will allow SeaWorld to continue our critical animal care practices and trainer safety training method,” the company’s statement said. “These techniques are important to the safety of our trainers and veterinary staff as well as the health and well-being of the orcas in our care.”
SeaWorld has faced heated criticism and declining revenues since the release of the 2013 documentary film “Blackfish,” which depicted the captivity and public exhibition of killer whales as inherently cruel. SeaWorld has criticized the film as inaccurate and misleading.
Last Tuesday, SeaWorld sued California authorities in an attempt to overturn a decision that allows the theme park to expand its orca habitat only if it stops breeding killer whales in captivity.
Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego; Editing by Curtis Skinner and Sandra Maler
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