Girl bitten at SeaWorld’s Dolphin Cove

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Girl bitten at SeaWorld’s Dolphin Cove

On November 21st, an 8-year-old girl named Jillian Thomas was feeding dolphins in SeaWorld Orlando’s Dolphin Cove when something went wrong.  The paper carton full of fish she’d been given to feed the animals was empty, so she turned away from the pool momentarily, her arm outstretched:

“…when the dolphin saw that, it leaped at me and bit me, ate the carton.”*

She suffered a swollen hand and three dime-sized bite marks, but she didn’t blame the dolphin:

Jillian held two dolphin stuffed animals as she recounted the ordeal, saying she hoped the dolphin didn’t get sick from eating the paper carton. She’s prayed for the animal at night, she said.*

Jillian is clearly a wonderfully compassionate person and a true dolphin lover, and I don’t blame her one bit for wanting to go to SeaWorld to be around her favourite animals.  When I was her age I had already visited countless dolphin exhibits and been to multiple shows, not realizing that I was supporting a cruel industry that dooms these sociable, intelligent animals to spend their lives in the equivalent of a lonely, barren fishbowl, sometimes tearing them away from their families to do so. I only hope that when Jillian gets older, she realizes that sometimes, the best thing we can do for the animals we love is to leave them alone.

jillian with dolphin

Jillian was nearly pulled into the pool.

This wasn’t the first such incident at SeaWorld’s Dolphin Cove.  In 2006, a 7-year-old boy was bitten while petting a dolphin under the guidance of an aquarium employee.  Three weeks earlier, a 6-year-old boy was bitten as well.  Both resulted in minor injuries.  SeaWorld has made no changes to Dolphin Cove, insisting even now that it is safe for children.

As Jillian’s father recounted:

“They asked if she wanted first aid, and I said ‘she’s bleeding’ so yes, we want first aid.”*

It’s not really a surprise: SeaWorld has an impressively subpar record when it comes to dealing with the safety of their guests and employees.  Everybody remembers Dawn Brancheau, the  trainer who was killed two years ago when Tilikum, a 6-ton orca, pulled her into the water and drowned her. Tilikum had already been involved in two deaths in the past, but he is also incredibly valuable to the aquarium industry, having fathered 10 of the approximately 42 orcas in captivity worldwide.  (Tilikum was back on the job 13 months later, apparently having the time in solitary confinement.) In 2009, trainer Alexis Martinez was killed while training for a Christmas show with another orca named Keto,and in 2006, trainer Kenneth Peters was violently attacked by Kasaka, an orca who had already bitten him severely seven years earlier.  (Fortunately, Peters survived with only puncture wounds and a broken foot, despite having been dragged underwater for a full minute, then released momentarily before Kasaka grabbed him again and held him under until he went limp.) Working with cetaceans is a dangerous job.

A survey commissioned by US Marine Mammal Commission and conducted by UCLA found that half of the people who work with marine mammals have been injured by them, and that of these injuries, one-third are severe: fractures, deep wounds, or wounds requiring stitches.

You can learn more about injuries at SeaWorld and other aquariums at our fact page.

 *All quotes for this post are from The Ottawa Citizen.

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