In 2010, SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was pulled under the water and drowned by orca Tilikum during a show. Despite her death and other incidents involving Tilikum, SeaWorld decided to continue having the orca, who has been in captivity for decades, perform.
Today, a judge has ruled that SeaWorld was responsible for Brancheau’s death. The case SeaWorld vs. OSHA (Occupational and Safety Health Administration) was an attempt by SeaWorld to overturn citations brought against them by OSHA. According to seattlepi, Judge Ken Welsch, an administrative law judge, has decided to uphold OSHA’s report and ordered that SeaWorld pay a $12,000 fine.
The fine is reduced from OSHA’s original penalty and Judge Welsch also changed the language of the citation against SeaWorld, saying that their responsibility for Brancheau’s death was not “willful” but “serious.” The court has also upheld OSHA’s requirement that SeaWorld keep their trainers separated from the orcas by a “physical barrier” when in the water with them, despite SeaWorld’s efforts to stop the change to their shows. The citation reads, “The gravity of this violation is very high. Trainers were required to work in close contact with killer whales during performances. The killer whales sometimes engage in unpredictable behavior, including seizing trainers with their mouths, holding the trainers under water, and ramming the trainers while in the water. SeaWorld’s operant conditioning program places an unrealistic burden on trainers to recognize precursors and react appropriately to forestall undesirable behavior.”
A lawsuit was recently brought against SeaWorld by PETA, Ric O’Barry, and several former SeaWorld trainers and marine mammal experts, alleging that SeaWorld “enslaves” the orcas kept in captivity and forced to perform. The suit was dismissed by a judge who ruled that the orcas are not “people” and therefore the 13th Amendment cannot be applied.