Court refuses to let SeaWorld trainers swim with killer whales

SeaWorld will not be allowed to let trainers swim with killer whales, after the water park lost an appeal in federal court on Friday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia voted in a 2-1 decision to uphold safety requirements issued by the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2010 that prohibit SeaWorld animal trainers from getting too close to potentially dangerous killer whales.

OSHA stepped in after SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by a six-ton orca named Tilikum, who dragged her under the water and drowned her during a performance in February 2010.

Brancheau's death drew national attention and caused OSHA to step in with fines and new regulations for SeaWorld. 

OSHA originally fined SeaWorld $75,000, but it was reduced to $12,000.

The new OSHA rules also limit contact between the trainers and killer whales. SeaWorld trainers would be protected from the killer whales with physical barriers.

OSHA argued these rules are necessary to maintain a safe workplace environment for employees.

The federal appeals court agreed, finding that SeaWorld's own safety measures were inadequate and did not go far enough to protect workers.

"Statements by SeaWorld managers do not indicate that SeaWorld's safety protocols and training made the killer whales safe; rather they demonstrate SeaWorld's recognition that the killer whales interacting with trainers are dangerous," Judge Judith Rogers wrote for the court's majority opinion.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh dissented. 

SeaWorld, which runs 11 water parks around the country, could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.