Tags: seaworld | killer | whale | ban

SeaWorld Killer Whale Ban on Contact With Trainers Contested

Image: SeaWorld Killer Whale Ban on Contact With Trainers Contested

Wednesday, 13 Nov 2013 07:11 AM

By Michael Mullins

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A ban on SeaWorld killer whales getting close to their trainers is at the center of a new lawsuit filed by the marine mammal park seeking to overturn a court's decision.

On Tuesday, SeaWorld attorney Eugene Scalia addressed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit requesting that it overturn a prior decision that had imposed limitations as to how close a SeaWorld trainer could get to an orca during water shows, Reuters reported.

Scalia is the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

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The prior ruling resulted from the February 2010 death of Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old veteran trainer who was drowned by an orca named Tilikum in front of some dozen or so patrons that watched as she was pulled under water immediately following SeaWorld's "Dine with Shamu" show.

Having been captured off Ice Land's coast in the early 1980s, the 12,000-pound killer whale Tilikum was also involved in two other deaths between 1991 and 1999, however reportedly remains as an attraction at SeaWorld Orlando.

Following Brancheau's 2010 death, a U.S. Labor Department safety order came down prohibiting close interaction between trainers and orcas.

SeaWorld's attorney Scalia argued on Tuesday that such close interaction between whales and humans is "the premise of SeaWorld's entertainment."

Scalia compared the Labor Department ruling to as if the "government came in and told the NFL (National Football League) that close contact on the football field would have to end" for safety reasons, Reuters noted.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had previously slapped SeaWorld with a $75,000 fine for "willfully" violating three clauses of the Occupational Safety and Health Act that require a workplace to be free from "recognized hazards."

According to CNN, SeaWorld appealed the decision and the citation was downgraded from "willfully" to "seriously." The $75,000 fine was knocked down to $12,000, but the judge upheld a contact ban between animals and trainers when there are not physical barriers in place.

In rebuttal to Scalia's arguments, U.S. Labor Department attorney Amy Tryon argued that such safety measures would not devastate SeaWorld's bottom line and were essential for safety at the park, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Tryon added that no matter how extensive the training was at the park, there is no way to protect SeaWorld trainers entirely.

"SeaWorld training does not take the predatory instinct out of these animals," Tryon said.

Marine mammal scientist Naomi Rose, who works for the Animal Welfare Institute and attended Tuesday's hearing, agreed.

"I feel very strongly that the trainers are being misled about the dangers these animals pose," Rose told the Orlando Sentinel.

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"The predatory instincts are there, but [the killer whales] are very differently behaved," Rose added. "Their unpredictability, in fact, is higher because they are frustrated, because they are confined, because they are suffering."

The alleged "suffering" to which Rose refers was highlighted in a 2013 documentary about the dangers of keeping orcas in captivity titled "Blackfish."

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