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EXCLUSIVE: SeaWorld Fined After Killer Whale Drowns Trainer - "It Was An Accident" Says Victim's Mom


Aug. 23 2010, Published 8:25 a.m. ET

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The tragic and violent death of Dawn Bracheau, the trainer who was killed by Tilikum, a six-ton killer whale at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, on February 24 has resulted in the water park being fined by federal regulators on Monday. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed $75,000 in fines against SeaWorld parks for allowing animal trainers to work with killer whales without adequate protection. 

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VIDEO: Expert - Whale Trainer Made Fatal Mistake

Dawn Brancheau had been lying face-to-face with Tilikum when he grabbed her by her pony tail and dragged her underwater. 

When reached by phone Dawn’s mother Marion Lo Verde told exclusively “It was an accident, what can you do?” as she choked up and declined to offer any further statement. 

“SeaWorld recognized the inherent risk of allowing trainers to interact with potentially dangerous animals," the OSHA administrator Cindy Coe said in a statement.  "Nonetheless, it required its employees to work within the pool walls, on ledges and on shelves where they were subject to dangerous behavior by the animals."

The statement from OSHA said that the probe "revealed that SeaWorld trainers had an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities. …Despite this record, management failed to make meaningful changes to improve the safety of the work environment for its employees." 

The agency said that unless SeaWorld implements new safeguards they would recommend that trainers not be allowed to continue swimming or working with the smaller killer whales in the park, and the company could eliminate the hazard by not allowing trainers to work with Tilikum again unless they were separated from the animal by a physical barrier.

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Whale Trainer Died From Multiple Traumatic Injuries and Drowning

OSHA faulted SeaWorld due to Tilikum’s “known aggressive tendencies” because he drowned another trainer at a park 20 years earlier in Canada.

SeaWorld said immediately it would challenge OSHA's findings.

"SeaWorld disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA today and have already informed the agency that we will contest this citation," the company said in a written statement. "OSHA's allegations in this citation are unsupported by any evidence or precedent and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care."

"The safety of SeaWorld's killer whale program was already a model for marine zoological facilities around the world and the changes we are now undertaking in personal safety, facility design and communication will make the display of killer whales at SeaWorld parks safer still," SeaWorld said in the statement. "It also is important to note that while maintaining a safe environment for our trainers, the demands of humane care require our zoological team to work in close physical proximity to these animals."


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