The Miami Seaquarium has been issued a $7,000 fine for allowing trainers to work with a killer whale without sufficient protection.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the citation earlier this month.
The citation is considered "serious" by the federal agency. OSHA says trainers worked with a killer whale in a pool and from the side of a pool without using physical barriers.
OSHA has required physical barriers between trainers and killer whales, or that trainer maintain a safe distance from the orcas, since an administrative law judge ruled in a SeaWorld case.
The SeaWorld case stemmed from the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed when a six-ton killer whale, Tilikum, grabbed her and pulled into the water.
Miami Seaquarium released a statement Thursday which states in part, "Miami Seaquarium has been cooperating with a recent OSHA investigation about the safety of our trainers working in our Whale and Dolphin Stadium. This investigation was sparked not by an employee complaint, nor by any safety incident, but rather by a complaint from an animal rights activists group who have other priorities and objectives besides employee safety."
The statement also claimed that no animal trainers have been harmed in the nearly 44 years that Lolita, the killer whale, has called the establishment home. The Miami Seaquarium also said OSHA found no evidence of aggression displayed by Lolita during its six-month investigation.
The OSHA investigation stemmed from a complaint by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). The ALDF submitted a video (below) which they recorded that showed trainers with Lolita on May 10.
Jenni James, a litigation fellow with the ALDF, said Lolita will still have some physical contact with her trainers, "as is required for her Lolita’s health and well-being," but not during performances.
"This citation is a significant victory for Lolita as it restores a small piece of her dignity and autonomy," said James. "The Animal Legal Defense is thrilled that Lolita will now be treated more like an orca and less like a surfboard."
OSHA has investigated Miami Seaquarium three previous times (1977, 1998, 2003), which yielded no citations.