Cal/OSHA cites SeaWorld San Diego for safety violations; park vows to appeal

During a 2014 performance at Shamu Stadium, trainers direct orcas at SeaWorld San Diego.

During a 2014 performance at Shamu Stadium, trainers direct orcas at SeaWorld San Diego.

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

State safety inspectors have issued four citations to SeaWorld San Diego for allegedly failing to train employees how to “safely interact with killer whales.”

The four citations issued this week by the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health at the Department of Industrial Relations carry a total fine of $25,770.

SeaWorld said the citations show a “fundamental misunderstanding of the requirements of safely caring for killer whales.” SeaWorld plans to appeal, a spokesman said.


The citations were the result of an inspection of SeaWorld San Diego by Cal/OSHA following a complaint.

The dispute between SeaWorld and the state agency comes amid a continued controversy about the theme park’s treatment of orcas, spurred by the documentary “Blackfish.”

Protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups are a common sight on the road leading from Interstate 5 to SeaWorld.

SeaWorld has launched an advertising campaign to convince the public that the charges against it in the documentary are false and that its orcas are healthy and happy.

The citations issued this week criticize SeaWorld for allegedly not identifying and evaluating workplace hazards and keeping employees aware of new hazards.

Orca keepers are no longer in the large pool at Shamu Stadium during the orca shows that are the park’s marquee attraction.


But the citation says that employees still ride and swim with the orcas while the animals are in the medical pool and that employees are also present on the “slide outs” used by the orcas.

In its statement, SeaWorld San Diego said that the citations were not prompted by “any workplace incident, accident or injury.”

In recent years, the statement said, SeaWorld has made significant safety enhancements for employees who work with the orcas, including giving them individual emergency air systems.

In 2007, SeaWorld San Diego disputed the finding of a Cal/OSHA report that it is “only a matter of time” before a trainer is killed by an orca. The report was written after a trainer was dragged to the bottom of the pool at Shamu Stadium.

After the SeaWorld protest, Cal/OSHA rewrote the report to eliminate the prediction of an imminent death and expressed regret over “the difficulties it may have caused SeaWorld.”