Even as it moves forward with water work, SeaWorld said it is in the midst of making sweeping safety improvements at its orca complexes. The most ambitious project: Rising pool floors that can lift killer whales out of the water in perhaps less than a minute's time.
SeaWorld said it has designed the new floors in conjunction with Oceaneering International Inc., a Houston-based deep-sea engineering company that works primarily with offshore oil- and gas-drilling companies. The floors are designed to rise much faster than the cabled lift stations in SeaWorld's medical pools, which take approximately 60 seconds to rise from 8-foot-deep water.
"Upon initiation, it would immediately release and rise to the surface, lifting multiple killer whales, and then obviously could support multiple individuals," said John Linn, SeaWorld Parks' senior director of engineering services.
Linn said the first floor will be installed by June in the 28-foot-deep "Dine with Shamu" pool in Orlando — the same pool that Brancheau was in when she was killed. Once SeaWorld has tested the mechanism and ironed out any kinks, it intends to install similar floors in all of the company's orca pools, including the largest performance pools, which are nearly 40 foot deep.
Although SeaWorld would not discuss specific costs, it said it expects to spend "tens of millions" of dollars installing the floors — putting the project's price tag at least on par with, and potentially more expensive than, a major new theme-park ride.