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Workplace accident caused ban on contact with killer whales

California SeaWorld fans may remember that on Feb. 24, 2010, one of SeaWorld’s killer whales drowned a seasoned trainer. When OSHA came in to conduct its investigation, it was determined that SeaWorld knew there was a risk to the human trainers before the workplace accident, yet continued to put its employees in danger. As a result, contact between the whales and their trainers was banned.

Now, SeaWorld has decided to challenge that ruling. In court documents, SeaWorld argues that the ban against trainer-whale contact is akin to banning tackles and blocks in the NFL or posting speed limits for NASCAR races. Imposing such limits would dramatically change the nature of each sport. SeaWorld says the effect of the ban would do the same for its business.

The whale that killed the trainer back in 2010 was a known killer. Before SeaWorld acquired the whale, it had killed at least once before and possibly twice. OSHA points out that SeaWorld knows the 12,000 pound mammal is dangerous and will only allow trainers to work with the whale in water that is not over their knees. However, trainers routinely work with the park’s other whales in much deeper water.

SeaWorld argues the law does not require it to eliminate the risks of working with whales, only to reduce those risks. That may be of little consolation to the family of the woman that was killed in the workplace accident involving the whale. Her family likely received death benefits from the workers’ compensation system where she was a trainer, as they would have here in California. The process of receiving those benefits can seem complicated and frustrating, no matter in what state a worker resided. Having an understanding of the workers’ compensation laws, rules and procedures may make the process much less frustrating and ensure that all eligible benefits are received.

Source:, SeaWorld challenges ban on whale-trainer contact, Donna Leinwand Leger, Nov. 12, 2013