SANFORD (CBS4) – During the second day of hearings which will determine if SeaWorld Orlando should have to pay hefty fines levied by a federal job safety agency after the death of a killer whale trainer at its park.
Tuesday, government attorneys declined to show a video of the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau last year. Brancheau was pulled underwater by an orca whale and drowned.
Seaworld has asked an administrative law judge to throw out three federal citations issued after an investigation of trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death in February 2010. A previous ruling by a federal judge gave attorneys for Occupational Safety and Health Administration the option of using video of her death to defend their decisions. Another objection to use of the video by SeaWorld lawyers was also overruled Tuesday.
Yet the federal agency’s lawyers stopped short of showing her death. They introduced about 16 minutes of video taken by a witness at the time she died, but it stopped about a minute before a whale pulled her underwater and drowned her. The video showed Brancheau (bran-CHOH’) on the edge of the pool feeding and directing the whale during a special dining show at the theme park.
Later in the show, she’s shown in the water.
What wasn’t shown Tuesday included footage of the killer whale named Tilikum grabbing her hair and violently dragging her underwater. The medical examiner said she drowned and suffered traumatic injuries.
It wasn’t immediately clear why the government chose not to show the footage.
A federal judge last week denied a request from Brancheau’s family to stop OSHA from showing videos of the fatal performance at the hearing because of privacy concerns. An attorney representing Brancheau’s family was in the courtroom Tuesday, along with the trainer’s husband and sister.
The first of the three citations by OSHA claimed SeaWorld exposed its workers to drowning hazards and the chance of being struck during interactions with killer whales. The federal agency noted in the citation that Tilikum also was involved in the death of a trainer at a marine park in British Columbia in 1991. The agency recommended putting physical barriers between trainers and killer whales.
The other two citations involve equipment in Shamu Stadium.
OSHA attorneys say their citations should apply to performances, but SeaWorld contends there is little difference in trainer interaction with the whales in shows and behind the scenes.
A ruling against SeaWorld could force park officials to change how trainers interact with the whales.
The hearing is expected to last a week.
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