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Judge: Barriers Would Protect SeaWorld Trainers

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(Photo by Matt Stroshane/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt Stroshane/Getty Images)

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South Florida Crime

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – An administrative law judge has ruled that physical barriers between the whales and SeaWorld trainers would be a ‘feasible’ way to protect them.

Administrative law Judge Ken Welsch made the response to Sea World Orlando’s appeal of two citations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the death of Dawn Brancheau in 2010. It was OSHA who suggested the barriers. He added that prohibiting trainers from swimming with killer whales during performances would reduce the risks that come along with working with the animals.

“There are no known cases of killer whales killing humans in the wild. As far as the court can tell, all known injuries to humans have occurred from interactions with killer whales in pools,” Welsch wrote.

SeaWorld said that its safety protocols were sufficient to protect trainers. The orders could prevent trainers from performing with the whales in the water during shows,the theme park does not want this to happen.

Welsch reduced OHSA’s fine against SeaWorld Orlando to $12,000 from $75,000 and changed “willful” citation to “serious”. Reason being, “willful” suggests that an employer acted with intentional disregard, and that wasn’t the case with SeaWorld, the judge wrote.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

“The record demonstrates SeaWorld constantly emphasized safety training and was continuously refining its safety program,” Welsch said.

Brancheau, a 40-year-old veteran trainer who adored whales, had just finished a show on Feb. 24, 2010, when she began rubbing a 22-foot male whale named Tilikum from a poolside platform. He suddenly grabbed her ponytail in his jaws and pulled her in. Witnesses said the whale played with Brancheau like a toy. An autopsy showed she died of drowning and blunt-force trauma to her head, neck and torso.

Tilikum also was involved in the death of a trainer at a marine park in British Columbia in 1991. In a separate incident, the body of a man who had sneaked into SeaWorld was found draped over Tilikum in 1999. The man either jumped, fell or was pulled into the frigid water and died of hypothermia, though he was also bruised and scratched by Tilikum.

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