An attorney who spoke before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia, argued that SeaWorld killer whale trainers are like football players, at least when in comes to being forced to follow government safety recommendations.
Attorney Eugene Scalia, who spoke in the court on Tuesday, said that federal regulations go way beyond the line as they try to impose limits on how trainers at SeaWorld work with the killer whales.
The government, he said, is restricting the trainers from having close contact with the whales. According to Scalia this is like the NFL forbidding tackling in football. He alleged that these restrictions are detrimental to the trainer/whale relationship.
Scalia said: "It's as if the federal government came in and told the NFL that 'close contact' on the football field would have to end." The judges who heard the case were not particularly impressed with Scalia's line of argument.
Chief Judge Merrick Garland asked Scalia whether the government safety regulations for SeaWorld were any different to the NFL requiring players to wear helmets.
The decision that the judges come to, whether the government safety rules are smart or just a hindrance, will very much affect the way SeaWorld works and would have some interesting implications for the future.
SeaWorld want the court to overturn a recommendation, following a citation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, that safety barriers or a minimum distance between the trainer and the SeaWorld killer whale be mandatory.
The government say that their stricter recommendations are a good thing and would ultimately protect trainers from any mishaps with the whales.
An attorney with the U.S. Labor Department, Amy Tryon, said that the federal restrictions would not devastate SeaWorld or its operations: "SeaWorld training does not take the predatory instinct out of these animals," she said.
It remains to be seen which way the court will go with its decision in the SeaWorld killer whale case. A decision is expected in the coming months.