On the year anniversary of the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, SeaWorld announced plans to start putting trainers back in the water with killer whales. The company said it had put new safety procedures in place and that the trainers would be allowed in the water with the animals for behind the scenes training work which would not be open to the public.
SeaWorld said they have spent millions of dollars to upgrade safety measures and develop new technology to keep trainers safe, and hope to eventually have trainers interact with whales during live shows again.
Trainers have been prohibited from getting in the water with the whales since Brancheau was pulled into the water and killed by Tilikum the whale shortly after a Dine with Shamu show last February. Several park guests were still in the area and witnessed the incident.
"We've always said, from the very beginning, we plan on getting back in with our animals," explained SeaWorld spokesperson Chuck Tompkins. "But we don't really have a set date or time."
Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, a former trainer at SeaWorld who knew Brancheau, told CBS news that this is a "predictable response" from the company. "This is a multibillion dollar corporation that makes its money through the exploitation of orcas and trainers," said Ventre.
Ventre is expected to be a key witness for the government in SeaWorld’s legal battle with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration which goes back to court in April. Last August OSHA found SeaWorld to be culpable in Brancheau's death and fined the company $75,000.
Reportedly SeaWorld is petitioning the judge in the case to close the hearings to the public in an effort to hide some of the horrific details about Dawn Brancheau’s death.
Dr. Ventre told CBS news:
"Well, first of all, Tillikum did a counterclockwise spin move using an arm bar and rolled Dawn into the water and killed her in probably just a couple of minutes. It really became a recovery operation soon after she got into the water. He broke her sternum; he bit off her left arm. She was scalped. She had a lot of internal bleeding. The posterior elements of three ribs were broken, and he simply wouldn't give her up. It took an additional 30 minutes just to pry his jaws open and get her out of him. And I think that these are the reasons why ... SeaWorld doesn't want to open these hearings up. Because the details are horrific."
Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/tomwright1964