Thursday, March 17, 2011

SeaWorld Trainers May Rejoin Orcas

USA Today: The three SeaWorld theme parks are moving toward putting trainers back in the water with killer whales, a year after a 6-ton orca killed a trainer during a performance at the Orlando park, the Associated Press reports.

Previously, SeaWorld had said its new show, One Ocean, set to debut in April in Orlando, would not put trainers in the water with the animals. Though he didn't specify when trainers would be back in the pool, Chuck Tompkins, curator of zoological operations for the parks, told the AP the show will include "interaction and play in the water."

Moreover, SeaWorld has spent millions on upgrading safety features, including rising pool floors to lift trainers and whales out of the water, underwater vehicles to distract the whales if need be, and portable oxygen bottles for trainers, the AP reports.

One Ocean is the first new SeaWorld show in five years. It opens at the San Diego park on Memorial Day weekend and in San Antonio in June.

SeaWorld officials say One Ocean has a stronger conservation message than the previous show, Believe, which, since the Februrary 2010 death of Dawn Brancheau, has featured trainers interacting with the whales from a platform.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration last summer issued a citation against SeaWorld, saying it had put trainers in danger by allowing them "to work within the pool walls, on ledges and on shelves where they were subject to dangerous behavior by the animals." The company is fighting the citation and a $75,000 fine.

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