It has been just over a year since the tragic death of Orca Trainer Dawn Brancheau. Today, the whale responsible (Tilikum) will begin performing at Sea World Orlando once again.
Last summer the US Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration accused Sea World of recklessly putting its trainers in danger by having them in the water with the orcas, slapping them with a $70,000 fine. Since then park officials have spent millions of dollars making safety upgrades.
The 6 ton orca will be one of the main attractions in Sea World's new show "Believe." Trainers are still not allowed to go into the water with the whales, and Sea World has said no one will ever swim with Tilikum again since that particular whale is responsible for 3 deaths.
Meantime, it is expected that an Orlando Judge will be asked to sign a “Protective Order” for the upcoming SeaWorld vs. OSHA hearing. That would effectively seal off the details of this high profile case forever. The proceedings before Judge Ken S. Welsch were originally scheduled to begin February 14, 2011 but they have been rescheduled for April 25, 2011.
If an order is issued by the judge, it could bar the public from participating in the hearing and seal all content, including expert witness testimony from both sides. That includes documentation and evidence describing the perils associated with orca captivity.
This is an extremely important hearing for both sides of the "captivity arguement."
For Sea World the outcome will likely determine whether or not trainers ever enter the water with animals again. It could also set the theme park up for further litigation and make it an even bigger target for animal activists.
On the other side of the argument, Brancheau's death has spurred a growing number of former Sea World trainers to speak out about the health conditions many of park's orcas are suffering from, and the secrecy that shrouds that entertainment industry.
There is some speculation that Tilikum has been included in the show to generate some good PR for Sea World. The theme park has come under fire since Brancheau's death, largely because of Tilikum's isolation from other whales and his small living quarters.
If you want to join in the campaign to keep this hearing open to the public there are a couple of things you can do.
You can visit the United States Department of Labor on Facebook and tell them what you think. Click Here
You can also access the Facebook page of Secretary Of Labor Hilda Solis. Click Here