ORLANDO (CN) – SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment can intervene in a lawsuit that would shield pictures and videos of a whale trainer being drowned by an orca last year, a federal judge ruled.
The video and photographs show animal trainer Dawn Brancheau being dragged by her hair and drowned by Tilikum, a 20-foot-long male orca at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium in Orlando.
Brancheau was killed during a Feb. 24, 2010, “Dine With Shamu” show. Witnesses eating dinner near a subterranean viewing tank said they saw Tilikum playing with the corpse.
The U.S. Secretary of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration released at least one video of the drowning to the media. OSHA also has photos taken immediately after the incident showing Dawn’s personal effects and clothing, and two surveillance videos showing her death and rescue efforts.
The sheriff’s office and medical examiner who investigated the death agreed to keep the materials confidential.
Apart from using the materials against SeaWorld, which it fined $75,000 for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the government is not seeking to release the video.
But Brancheau’s family has fought to make sure that those with access to the videos never have the chance to release them.
Brancheau’s widower, Scott, and other family members filed suit in August to block OSHA from showing so-called “death scene materials” in a reverse Freedom of Information Act request.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell said SeaWorld, which owns the videos, can intervene in the case and protect its intellectual property. It has until Nov. 4 to file an intervenor’s complaint, which would stop OSHA from publicly disclosing the videos for any reason.
As owner of the videos, SeaWorld has an obvious intellectual-property interest in the case, and Brancheau’s family does not share that interest, according to the court.
Presnell rejected the family’s request for an injunction last month, allowing the materials to be shown at the hearing against SeaWorld. But any portion of the hearing in which the materials are aired will be closed off to the media and public.
The hearing, which is scheduled to resume on Nov. 15, will also determine whether trainers can get back in the water with the whales after SeaWorld takes some new precautions.