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Judge Rules Barriers Should Be Used At SeaWorld

Killer whale trainers at SeaWorld San Diego may have to stay out of the water for good during the marine park's iconic Shamu shows, it was reported today.

An administrative law judge on Wednesday issued a ruling that SeaWorld must find a way to protect its trainers during performances involving killer whales following the death of a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010, according to U-T San Diego.

The ruling was issued before the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission in Atlanta, Ga., and applies to all SeaWorld parks, including San Diego.

SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau was battered and drowned by a 12,000-pound male orca named Tilikum before a live audience in February 2010. In response, the traditional crowd-pleasing portion of the Shamu shows in which trainers ride whales as they speed across their tanks was immediately suspended at all SeaWorld parks.

OSHA also fined SeaWorld $75,000 and issued three safety violations but in his ruling this week, Judge Ken Welsch reduced the fine to $12,000, U-T San Diego reported. He also determined the safety violations were "serious'' but not "willful,'' as originally cited, according to the newspaper.

"The judge also unequivocally stated that SeaWorld is a safety- conscious employer with a highly detailed and thorough safety training program,'' SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment President and CEO Jim Atchison said in a statement. "We have maintained all along that the allegations of willful were meritless and are vindicated that the judge agreed.''

It is now up to SeaWorld to present a plan that is acceptable to OSHA, Department of Labor spokesman Michael Ward told U-T San Diego.

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