Agency refuses to release SeaWorld protocols

FILE -- This Feb. 24, 2010 photo made from video provided by Todd Connell shows trainer Dawn Brancheau, center right, before the accident in which killer whale Tilikum, center left, pulls her into the water and thrashes her around, killing her at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Todd Connell, HO)

FILE -- This Feb. 24, 2010 photo made from video provided by Todd Connell shows trainer Dawn Brancheau, center right, before the accident in which killer whale Tilikum, center left, pulls her into the water and thrashes her around, killing her at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Todd Connell, HO)

— A federal agency is refusing to release SeaWorld's new safety protocols for trainer interactions with killer whales despite a judge's ruling that they are not trade secrets.

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has refused to make public the SeaWorld safety protocols almost a month after a deadline passed for their public release.

The Associated Press on Monday filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the agency seeking the protocols. They explain the safety measures SeaWorld trainers are now taking when interacting with killer whales following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. She was killed in February 2010 when a six-ton killer whale named Tilikum pulled her into a pool.

Agency officials said they worry they could be held criminally liable for releasing trade secrets. Under federal law, a federal government worker or contractor could face up to a year in prison for unlawfully disclosing trade secrets.

"A few of the lawyers here were concerned about whether the agency could potentially be held liable for releasing the protocols," agency spokesman Melik Ahmir-Abdul said in an email.

A federal judge in August denied a request from SeaWorld to keep the protocols secret, saying the marine park company had failed to establish that its safety protocols are a trade secret. He gave the commission a month to review his order before making the protocols public in late September. The agency never released the safety protocols then.

"The protocols that SeaWorld wants to remain under seal reflect the training methods and techniques its trainers implement poolside with the killer whales," Judge Ken Welsch wrote in his ruling. "An observer knowledgeable in the behavior and training of killer whales could likely ascertain the information contained in the written protocols by watching the trainers interact with the killer whales."

A SeaWorld spokesman said in an email that while the company had considered the protocols proprietary and confidential, company officials now consider the matter closed with the judge's ruling.

Whether the agency would be in violation of the law for releasing the protocols "is a matter for the courts to decide," said Fred Jacobs.

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