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SeaWorld Trainer Killed by Orca Whale Leads to Citations and Appeal

Seaworld Killer WhaleSeaWorld is fighting $75,000 in work safety penalties issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration following last year’s gruesome death of a trainer who was grabbed by her ponytail and dragged under water by an Orca whale in front of horrified spectators.

A hearing is set for Monday before an administrative judge in Orlando. SeaWorld has argued that three safety citations from the investigation of trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death last year are unfounded.

“These allegations are completely baseless, unsupported by any evidence or precedent and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care,” said SeaWorld spokeswoman Becca Bides. “The safety of our guests and employees and the welfare of our animals are core values for SeaWorld and areas in which we do not compromise.”

Animal rights activists are planning to stage a protest at the hearing with signs saying “Throw the Book at SeaWorld!” and “Stop Imprisoning Orcas!”

Ingrid Newkirk, president of the animal rights group PETA issued a press release stating that “The company goes on making money at the expense of animals and its employees.”

Brancheau died Feb. 24, 2010, when a killer whale named Tilikum grabbed her by the hair as she knelt on the deck to interact with him following a performance. The six-ton whale dragged her underwater violently. The medical examiner reported that she died of drowning and traumatic injuries.

OSHA will be allowed to present video footage of Brancheau’s death taken from SeaWorld cameras. U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell denied a recent request from Brancheau’s family to ban OSHA from showing them at the hearing because of privacy concerns.

In their court filing, Brancheau’s husband and parents referred to the footage “shocking and disturbing.”

“The content at issue is the most intrusive imaginable because family members would be barraged with a widespread and repeated depiction of Dawn’s gruesome and traumatic death,” the filing said.

The first OSHA citation claimed that SeaWorld exposed workers to drowning hazards and the chance of being struck during interactions with killer whales because trainers have unprotected contact with the large marine animals. The federal agency’s citation noted that Tilikum also was involved in a 1991 trainer’s death at a marine park in British Columbia. The agency recommended putting physical barriers between trainers and killer whales.

The second citation said SeaWorld did not install a stairway railing system on the stage in Shamu Stadium where the killer whale show was performed. The citation said a section of the stage without a railing had a 10-foot drop.

While giant marine mammals are uncommon in most workplaces, you may face other safety risks on the job. If you have experienced a work injury, need help recovering your workers compensation benefits from the Department of Labor and Industries, or want to appeal a denied L&I claim, contact an Employment attorney at Emery Reddy today. Our experienced L&I Attorneys and Seattle workers compensation lawyers can also help workers who were injured by a third party, and workers who are sent to complete an independent medical exam.

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