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New safety vests designed for SeaWorld whale trainers

Leah Zanolla | Posted: May 1, 2014 | Updated: Oct 19, 2014 - 9:25:27 AM
SeaWorld Orlando's whale trainers are now wearing safety vests when they are near the water and working with the animals. The safety of the trainers has been a topic of contention since one of the whales pulled a trainer underwater and killed her, back in early 2010. After investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ruled that trainers must stay out of the water when working with the whales. Though SeaWorld appealed the ruling in court, and subsequently lost, they are still taking measures such as the vests to ensure that their trainers are safe.

The vests are worn over the normal wetsuits. Head trainer Kelly Flaherty Clark said, "I don't think the guests even notice that it's there. It pretty much provides a trainer with everything you'd have in scuba without that bulk." The vests contain a cord that can be pulled to inflate the vests so they become buoyant. There is even a small scuba tank attached on the back.

It took 3 and 1/2 years to design the vests, which was done in conjunction with a panel of safety experts, trainers and engineers. The park's trainers have been using the vests for three months to get acclimated to the change, but have just recently begun wearing them during shows for the public. Flaherty Clark said, "It's a part of our protocol when we're working in close proximity to killer whales."

SeaWorld has added other safety features to their pools as well, including quick-rising platforms to get both whales and trainers out of the water in case of emergency, remote-operated pneumatic gate, updated walkways and easily deployed nets.

Below is a video from SeaWorld showing the new safety vests.