SAN DIEGO - Trainers will remain out of the water during "Shamu" shows at SeaWorld locations in San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio after a federal appellate court today denied the theme park's request to review a federal agency's findings of violations in the 2010 death of an animal handler.
The 2-1 ruling by the appellate court in Washington, D.C., came on an appeal by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment of citations issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in connection with the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau -- who was killed by an orca at the Florida park.
SeaWorld noted that while trainers would not be in the water, they would still interact with the orcas.
"We are obviously disappointed with today's decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals," a statement by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment said.
"Following the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau in 2010, we voluntarily deployed several new safety measures, including removing trainers from the water during shows," SeaWorld said. "In so noting in its opinion, the court acknowledged that there will still be human interactions and performances with killer whales and, according to the court, the decision simply requires that we continue with increased safety measures during our shows."
The appellate justices wrote that there was "evidence of continued incidents of aggressive behavior of killer whales toward trainers" despite SeaWorld's training and practices.
SeaWorld said it would review the ruling before deciding whether to file another appeal.
Jared Goodman, the director of animal law for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation, said the ruling "signals an end to the days of trainers standing and riding on orcas for human amusement at SeaWorld."
PETA and other human rights groups have protested outside SeaWorld San Diego for years.
"With the life-threatening dangers to trainers and the detrimental effects of enslaving intelligent, social, and far-ranging orcas and confining them to concrete tanks, SeaWorld's tawdry shows will soon be a thing of the
past," Goodman said. "SeaWorld needs to make the only responsible and humane choice and develop coastal sanctuaries for the orcas it confines and finally bring its business into the 21st century."
A Santa Monica assemblyman recently introduced legislation that would ban orca shows. An Assembly committee referred the bill for further study, which could take around one year.