Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Orca? Killer whale!

SeaWorld fined in orca tragedy, will fight

SeaWorld intentionally disregarded dangers to an animal trainer by allowing her to lie at the edge of a pool to interact with a particularly aggressive killer whale, federal investigators said Monday.

Tilikum, a 6-ton orca, or killer whale, grabbed trainer Dawn Brancheau from a pool deck and fatally dragged her underwater after the Dine With Shamu show at the Orlando amusement park Feb. 24. Tilikum repeatedly thrashed Brancheau as she tried to escape, police reports say.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited SeaWorld of Florida for three safety violations, including one classified as “willful,” the most serious category. OSHA said SeaWorld acted “with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee health and safety.” That citation carries a maximum penalty of $70,000. OSHA also fined SeaWorld $5,000 for failing to install handrails on two stairways.

SeaWorld will fight the charges, said Fred Jacobs, SeaWorld’s communications vice president.

“We made a number of changes to our killer whale program after Feb. 24, including restricting the level of contact with Tilikum and suspending in-water interaction with all of the whales,” Jacobs wrote in an e-mail to USA TODAY. An internal investigation is continuing, he said.

Before Brancheau’s death, SeaWorld did not allow trainers to swim with Tilikum.

SeaWorld officials knew interacting with orcas is potentially deadly and had recorded “an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities,” OSHA said. “Despite this record, management failed to make meaningful changes to improve the safety of the work environment.”

When you hire people to jump in a fish tank with animals called "killer whales", you're not maintaining a safe work place. You deserve to be fined and sued and, if you do it again, shut down.

On the other hand, don't take a job interacting with animals named "killer"!

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