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Big Week Looms Ahead for SeaWorld

Posted: 07/11/2012 2:19 pm

■ Company's appeal in trainer's death could be accepted or rejected by Monday
■ OSHA will likely try to reinstate its "willful" violation against the park
■Groundbreaking poll on Monday to measure public attitudes toward orca captivity
Death at SeaWorld, an investigative thriller, hits bookstores on Tuesday

The week of July 16 will be crunch time for America's favorite marine theme park, as SeaWorld braces for the next grueling phase in the aftermath of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau's death, two and a half years ago in Orlando.

The company will have much to contend with.

For one, the appeal it just filed after losing most of its case in federal court last May has been sent to the three-member Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, in a somewhat Quixotic attempt to overturn the judge's ruling on new safety measures that would effectively ban trainers from water work with orcas.

A decision on whether or not to review of the case might come by Monday, July 16, according to the Orlando Sentinel. SeaWorld sued Labor Secretary Hilda Solis over the violation. Meanwhile, commissioners are appointed by the President, while SeaWorld is owned by the powerful venture capital firm The Blackstone Group, whose CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, is a big Romney backer and Bain Capital business associate, setting up an unusual election-year showdown.

At the same time, OSHA is almost certain to file a motion to reinstate the original violation against SeaWorld back to "willful," the most severe citation of all. The judge had reduced the violation from "willful" to "serious," something that SeaWorld had said exonerated the company. They may regret filing this appeal in the end.

At the same time, SeaWorld just reopened its "Dine with Shamu" event this week, in the same location, G-Pool, where Brancheau was killed by the 12,000 pound Tilikum. The pool has a new false-bottom that can be raised in about a minute in the event of a rampaging whale that grabs a trainer.

SeaWorld wants trainers back in the water quickly, but knows that OSHA will never accept the false-bottom pool as providing adequate worker protection. That is likely why SeaWorld is appealing the ruling -- they have little other choice.

Also on Monday, the first-ever public opinion poll on US attitudes toward keeping orcas in captivity for display will be released. Support and opposition to the practice is outlined in considerable detail, including according to gender, age, geographic region and even political affiliation. The results are fascinating.

Finally, on Tuesday, Death at SeaWorld hits bookstores, with a big event that evening at Barnes and Noble Tribeca. SeaWorld has already accused award winning author/journalist David Kirby of "not approaching the complex issues of marine mammal display in good faith." The prestigious review journal Booklist, however, called the book "A gripping inspection... hard to put down." Reviews have been universally positive to date and pre-orders are brisk.

Death at SeaWorld goes on sale Tuesday, July 17th.

 
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