SeaWorld lost a major round Friday in its legal fight to put its trainers back into the water with killer whales during the parks' marquee orca shows.
By 2-1, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., rejected an appeal by SeaWorld of a citation issued in 2012 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after its investigation into the 2010 drowning death of a trainer at the SeaWorld park in Orlando, Fla.
In court documents, 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.
While the OSHA investigation and court case involved the park in Florida, SeaWorld San Diego voluntarily pulled its trainers from the water after the 2010 death.
In a statement, SeaWorld called the court's decision disappointing and said no decision has been made on whether to appeal.
"SeaWorld remains committed to providing a safe workplace for employees, healthy environments for the animals in our care, and inspirational and educational experiences with killer whales for our guests," the statement said.
Noami Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, said the ruling "supports our contention that, from a common-sense perspective, it is simply not safe to work in close contact with an intelligent, multi-ton marine predator."
The ruling comes the same week that a state Assembly committee delayed voting on a bill, supported by the Animal Welfare Institute and other environmental groups, that would have banned orca shows at Shamu Stadium in SeaWorld San Diego and require that the park's 10 orcas be put in "sea pens."