The widower of Dawn Brancheau has retained a law firm specializing in wrongful death, to represent him against Sea World in a suit for damages relating to the fatal whale attack of February 24, 2010.
Tilikum, a 12,300 pound bull orca, pulled Ms. Brancheau into the water at Sea World by her pony tail, as she was lying prone on a water level platform, nose to nose with him. It took Sea World employees half an hour to recover her body from the pool, as the whale dragged her underwater and shook her body like a ragdoll. The autopsy said that she died by drowning or by blunt force trauma.
On two prior occasions, Tlilkum had been involved in fatal human incidents.
Ms. Brancheau was a 40-year-old trainer, with 16 years of experience at Sea World. One would expect that she was aware of the dangers of working with Tilikum, given her long experience of training and her tenure at Sea World.
Nevertheless, on August 23, 2010, OSHA (the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration) fined Sea World $75,000 for three levels of safety violations: one "willful citation" (plain indifference or intentional disregard for employee safety or health), one "serious citation" (death or serious physical harm likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known) and one "other-then-serious violation" (a situation that relates to job safety and health that would not likely cause death or serious physical harm).
An OSHA representative stated "All employers are obligated to assess potential risks to the safety and health of their employees and take actions to mitigate those risks... In facilities that house wild animals, employers need to assess the animals under their care and to minimize human-animal interaction if there is no safe way to reliably predict animal behavior under all conditions."
Not surprisingly, Sea World challenges OSHA's assessment of the situation, saying that the citations are "unsupported by any evidence or precedent and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care."
My sense is, despite whatever OSHA says, Ms. Brancheau died tragically doing something that she loved, despite knowing that it was dangerous.