Sea World demands probe of safety investigator in ‘Blackfish’ trainer death case

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. has filed a complaint with U.S. Department of Labor requesting an examination into the conduct of the investigator who led the investigation into the death of an Orlando trainer killed by a park killer whale in 2010, which became the basis for the controversial film "Blackfish".

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the complaint, filed with the Labor Department's Inspector General, investigator Lara Padgett leaked confidential company documents to the makers of "Blackfish"; a documentary that is sharply critical of SeaWorld and killer-whale captivity.

In the complaint, SeaWorld alleges Padgett shared materials with "Blackfish" producers that she obtained while investigating the 2010 death of Dawn Brancheau, who was battered and drowned by the six-ton orca known as 'Tilikum'.

That investigation led OSHA to charge SeaWorld with "willful" safety violations and to recommend that SeaWorld trainers never again be allowed to perform in close, unprotected contact with the killer whales.

SeaWorld has since appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

Blackfish Associate Producer Tim Zimmermann has stated that Padgett did not provide the filmmakers with any records or other assistance.

"In fact, we repeatedly tried to secure interviews with her, her OSHA supervisor, Les Grove, and OSHA attorney John Black, and were refused each and every time," Zimmermann said in January.

In the complaint, SeaWorld also accused Padgett of ethical lapses for socializing with the cast and crew of "Blackfish" as well as being photographed attending its premiere in January 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

Padgett has declined to comment on the controversy.

Reaction to the film, first shown on CNN and available on Netflix, has led to bands and musical artists Heart, Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, .38 Special, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, The Beach Boys, Trace Adkins and Trisha Yearwood to cancel their concerts affiliated with Sea World.

The official trailer for "Blackfish" can be seen below:

[Image via Ricymar Photography on FLICKR]