(Reuters) - A killer whale, the lawyer-son of a Supreme Court justice and the grisly death of wildlife trainer will play roles in a U.S. appeals court case next month that could forever change marine park operator SeaWorld's marquee entertainment.
The signature attraction for the company's three U.S. theme parks has been shows featuring the black-and-white killer whales or orcas, including several named Shamu, performing flips and other stunts under the direction of trainers who historically have been in close contact with them.
But that changed after the February 2010 death of Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer. She drowned after being pulled into a pool by Tilikum, a 12,000-pound bull orca, at SeaWorld's site in Orlando, Florida.
In August 2010, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined SeaWorld $75,000 for three safety violations, saying it had exposed its trainers to a hazardous environment and violated a part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act known as the general duty clause.
OSHA, a part of the Labor Department, demanded SeaWorld make certain changes, notably, physically separating the killer whale trainers from the orcas during show performances.
SeaWorld is appealing the broad application of a federal safety law meant to protect workers in unusual circumstances. The case will come before a three-judge panel of the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Nov. 12.