'Death at SeaWorld': Book Slams Popular Theme Park

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The book comes some two months after a ruling by a federal judge affirming two safety citations against SeaWorld by the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration. In May, Ken S. Welsch, a federal administrative law judge for the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, downgraded one of the violations cited by OSHA and reduced the fines SeaWorld was facing by tens of thousands of dollars.

The judge wrote that OSHA "failed to establish Sea World manifested plain indifference to employee safety. On the contrary, the record demonstrates Sea World constantly emphasized safety training and was continuously refining its safety program." He called SeaWorld a "safety-conscious" employer.

But Welsch also issued his own criticism of Sea World and its emphasis on the whale training and emergency procedures that failed to save Brancheau's life.

"Sea World holds trainers to a near-impossible standard set by upper management, who engage in a form of Monday morning quarterbacking," Welsch said in his opinion. "Once a trainer is in the water with a killer whale that chooses to engage in undesirable behavior, the trainer is at the whale's mercy. All of the emergency procedures, nets, underwater signals and hand slaps are useless if the whale chooses to ignore them."

In a written statement, SeaWorld said the following about the ruling: "While the company views it as a positive that both the classification of the violation, and the accompanying fine, were reduced substantially, we do disagree with some of the judge's interpretations. Our zoological staff is among the world's finest animal trainers, and the safety of our employees is a core value for SeaWorld and an area in which we never compromise." (Read the full statement here.)

SeaWorld has appealed the judge's decision to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, but the commission did not take action.

SeaWorld said that it would decide in the next 60 days whether it would appeal to the United States Court of Appeals and that the park "remains dedicated to the safety of its employees and well being of its animals."

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