Local 6 was in the courtroom, and Local 6 has a report on how the day went:
In court Thursday, SeaWorld lawyers said the company consulted with marine mammal experts from the Georgia Aquarium and Atlantis Resorts in the Bahamas to establish its own minimum distances trainers can interact with killer whales. Neither facility houses killer whales.
According to SeaWorld Animal Training Curator Kelly Flaherty Clark, trainers are now required to stay three feet away from killer whales if they are kneeling on a flat surface. Trainers must be 18 inches from the edge of the pool if they standing near the whales, she said.
Clark testified that trainers may still touch a killer whale or rub its back while standing next to the animal on a submerged ledge in the pool, as long as the trainer is positioned along the side of the animal’s body between its blowhole and tail. The trainer must stay away from the whale’s mouth and tail and have an escape route if the whale were to move, said Clark.
Under cross examination by OSHA lawyers, Clark acknowleged a killer whale can potentially spin 360 degrees on the submerged ledge as a trainer stands next to it. OSHA lawyers point out that it is up to the employees themselves to determine whether the whale might attempt to hurt them.
“Everything we did was about making sure my employees were safe,” testified Clark, who said no SeaWorld trainers have been injured since Dawn Brancheau was drowned by a killer whale in 2010. “We haven’t even had a scraped knee.”
Judge Welsch must know more about SeaWorld and killer whales than he ever dreamed possible. Following the hearing he will rule on whether SeaWorld had a good excuse for missing last July’s deadline to be in compliance with his ruling that trainers must maintain a minimum separation or work from behind a barrier.
I don’t think he will care as much about whether SeaWorld has suffered any scraped knees, as he will about the question of whether SeaWorld had any legal justification to ignore his ruling and avoid compliance. Some judges might take that hard.