SeaWorld San Diego faces $25,770 in alleged safety violations for failing to properly train employees on how to safely interact with killer whales. The four citations were issued earlier this week by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
A SeaWorld spokesman told the Los Angeles Times that the citations show a “fundamental misunderstanding of the requirements of safely caring for killer whales,” adding that the company plans to contest them.
According to the citations, untrained employees were swimming with whales in the medical pools and present on so-called "slide outs" -- shallower sections on the edge of the main pool. Workplace health and safety regulations require employers to identify hazards and train their workers on how to address them. The citations also allege that SeaWorld discouraged workers from informing the company about potential hazards by making them sign a training confidentiality agreement once a year.
SeaWorld is already under fire for its treatment of captive orca whales. The critically acclaimed 2013 documentary "Blackfish" chronicled abuses at the company’s amusement park in Orlando, sparking a sharp public backlash. Since then, SeaWorld’s attendance and revenue have declined, but the company says its financial woes are not attributable to the film.
California safety agency spokeswoman Erika Monterroza told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the inspection originated from a complaint, but would not say if it came from an employee.
In February 2010, 40-year-old trainer Dawn Brancheau died at SeaWorld Orlando after being dragged underwater by a whale. After an inspection following Brancheau’s death, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined SeaWorld $75,000. The company contested the citations, and was eventually ordered to pay $12,000.