SeaWorld whale trainers begin wearing new emergency vests

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - On Monday, SeaWorld made public new emergency vests that will be worn by trainers any time they're near a killer whale.

The vests are small and lightweight, but officials with SeaWorld said they are capable of doing a lot.

Monday was the first time trainers wore the vests in public, but officials said the safety feature has been in the works for three-and-a-half years.

"We had engineers designing never-before used equipment, so this is brand new technology," said SeaWorld curator of animal training Kelly Flaherty Clark.

"It's sleek and custom fit. What you have here is an entire SCUBA set without all the bulk," said Clark.

According to officials, the vests can inflate to help bring a trainer to the surface quickly and can provide air in an emergency.

The emergency air supply can offer the trainer's time to escape a problem situation.

"The air use depends on the person using the air.  I personally tested it the equipment and my tank lasted four minutes," said Clark 

The vests are the latest addition to changes made by SeaWorld since the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. After her death, Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials accused SeaWorld of compromising the safety of its trainers and recommended they work with the whales at a distance. Trainers no longer swim with the whales, but insist their work was as safe then as it is now.

"This is just another case of us taking this step when technology caught up with us to be able to make that safe environment even safer," said Clark.