Submitted by PETA on May 31, 2012

There’s big news today in a case that PETA has been tenaciously pursuing for some time: Consistent with thecitations issued against SeaWorld in 2010, Administrative Law Judge Ken Welsch of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) found that SeaWorld is culpable for allowing its employees to interact directly with potentially dangerous orcas.

SeaWorld Knew the Risks

For years, PETA has implored SeaWorld to transfer the marine mammals it enslaves to transitional coastal sanctuaries because confining animals of such great size to severely inadequate tanks leads to miserable lives of desperation and frustration—and dangerous conditions for SeaWorld staffers.

After one orca, Tilikum, killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in front of horrified visitors at SeaWorld Orlando, PETA urged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to pursue a citation against SeaWorld and provided it with compiled research on the history of deaths and injuries at the park and orca aggression in captivity. Today’s OSHRC decision affirms that SeaWorld knew that allowing its employees to interact directly with orcas such as Tilikum could have serious or fatal results.

A History of Irresponsibility

While the judge modified the citation for “willful” violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to “serious,” adjusting the fine accordingly, he found that SeaWorld knew that there was a “substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result” from these interactions, yet it continued to allow them. He found SeaWorld’s arguments that it wasn’t aware of these hazards to be implausible and lambasted its corporate culture of placing the blame for dangerous incidents exclusively on trainers and discouraging trainers from stopping a show—even after an attack.

Information that came out of the testimony during a two-week hearing before Judge Welsch, as well as during previous proceedings, includes the following:

  • A senior trainer testified that trainers who work with orcas receive special instruction on Tilikum as well as a “Tilly Talk,” in which they’re informed of Tilikum’s involvement with two previous deaths and that if they enter the water with him, they may not survive. Despite these concerns, trainers were approved to work in close proximity with him and physically touch him at the water’s edge

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