By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
SAN DIEGO — SeaWorld has decided it will not seek to overturn a court ruling that has kept its trainers from getting into the water with the parks’ killer whales.
The company’s decision not to appeal the orca ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court was found in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The decision was first reported by the Orlando Sentinel.
Since the ruling, the park has “made significant safety improvements” in trainer safety, SeaWorld said in a statement.
While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation and court case involved the park in Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego voluntarily pulled its trainers from the water after the 2010 death of a trainer in Orlando, officials said.
In April, by a vote of 2-1, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., rejected an appeal by SeaWorld of a citation issued by OSHA after its investigation into the drowning death of the trainer.
SeaWorld had argued that proximity of the trainers to the killer whales was central to the appeal of the orca shows and without that proximity the shows would lose popularity.
But the court majority concluded it is too dangerous for orcas to be closely interacting with trainers. Safety measures taken after the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau are inadequate, the majority added.
Last week, SeaWorld San Diego announced plans to nearly double the size of its orca environment. It also promised to contribute an additional $10 million to research on the species and to establish an independent advisory committee of scientists to oversee its orca program.
The new space, described as the first of its kind, is slated to be completed by 2018, officials said. SeaWorld parks at Orlando and San Antonio, Texas, will follow with similar orca projects, officials said.
SeaWorld San Diego has ten orcas. The orca show at Shamu Stadium has long been the marquee attraction.
Battered by bad publicity from the documentary Blackfish, which asserts that SeaWorld mistreats its orcas, the company’s earnings and stock price have taken a beating.
It was announced last week that shares of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., which has 11 theme parks, dropped 33 percent after its earnings fell below expectations.
The Orlando, Florida-based company conceded for the first time that attendance at its theme parks has been hurt by negative publicity caused by a drumbeat from animal activists about the alleged maltreatment of the orcas.
Standard & Poor’s last week announced it had lowered SeaWorld Entertainment’s credit rating to BB- from BB, pushing the rate further below investment grade into the area of junk bonds.
Photo: Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times/MCT