OSHA Alleges That SeaWorld Didn't Keep Proper Records of Dangerous Whale Behavior

PHOTO: Trainer Dawn Brancheau and the killer whale Tilikum before the whale pulled her into the water and killed her at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla.
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SeaWorld Orlando and federal officials are sparring in a Florida courtroom this week over charges that the popular theme park put its employees at risk by allowing them to perform shows in potentially dangerous conditions.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration filed an extensive complaint detailing the allegedly unsafe work environment at SeaWorld and said in court Wednesday that the theme park failed to keep proper documentation of whale behaviors that could endanger trainers.

The complaint comes on the heels of the death of Dawn Brancheau, a trainer who was violently drowned by a killer whale named Tilikum during a live show at the Orlando park in February 2010.

In a copy of the complaint provided to ABCNews.com, OSHA specifically mentions the killer whale.

"At the Shamu Stadium pools animal trainers working with Tilikum, a killer whale with known aggressive tendencies and who was involved in the 1991 death of a whale trainer at a marine park in Vancouver, British Columbia, were exposed to struck-by and drowning hazards in that they were allowed unprotected contact with Tilikum," the complaint states.

SeaWorld vehemently denies the charges that it put its employees at risk.

"These allegations are completely baseless, unsupported by any evidence or precedent, and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care," wrote SeaWorld in a statement.

Spokeswoman Becca Bides declined to answer ABCNews.com's questions about the case, citing ongoing litigation.

SeaWorld is asking that a judge throw out the three federal safety citations, which would not only slam the park with up to $75,000 in fines -- but also threaten its famous shows.

SeaWorld's lawyer Carla Gunnin said in her opening statements Monday that the park could be forced to end its shows, where trainers interact with whales by feeding them, playing games and even surfing on their backs.

During the hearing, OSHA lawyers played a controversial video shot by a park visitor last year during the show where Dawn Brancheau was fatally attacked.

According to an AP report, the video shows Brancheau on the edge of the pool throughout the performance. She is seen feeding and directing the whale. Suddenly, the whale pulled Brancheau by her ponytail, dragged her underwater and killed her. OSHA attorneys stopped the video one minute before the gruesome attack.

The dramatic video was of much debate after Brancheau's family filed suit last month to block OSHA from showing the video and releasing it to the public calling the agency's attempt "capricious and indefensible."

Chuck Tompkins, curator of zoological operations at SeaWorld Orlando, told "Good Morning America" last year that Tilikum was a "good animal."

Despite being aware of Tilikum's previous behaviors, Tompkins said the park planned to review its protocols. He added that they would "continue to care for Tilikim with the same high level of care."

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