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article imageOp-Ed: Dolphin bites 8-year-old girl at SeaWorld Orlando

By Elizabeth Batt     Dec 1, 2012 in Environment
Orlando - Eight-year-old Jillian Thomas was feeding a dolphin at SeaWorld Orlando when it partially launched out of the water and grabbed the girl's hand. The attack captured on video, highlights the lack of regulation governing cetacean-human interaction.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, eight-year-old Jillian Thomas was feeding the dolphins at Dolphin Cove last week when the "marine mammal lunged toward her during the feeding and snapped his toothy snout around the 8-year-old's hand." The attack left four puncture wounds in the young girl's arm and was captured on video by the girl's parents.
Jillian's father, Jamie Thomas, was so alarmed by the attack, that he posted the video online to warn other parents of the dangers. Yet the giant marine mammal park appeared to view it as no big deal.
"It was strange how they downplayed the whole thing," Thomas told the Sentinel. "At the time, we thought we were at fault but these are children. We just want other parents to know the dangers."
The girl's mother said that at no time did she believe that her daughter was in jeopardy. "I felt safe," she said, "everyone just imagines dolphins as smiling, non-biting animals with knobby teeth. You forget these are wild animals."
And that's the problem. No matter how well SeaWorld attempts to train these marine mammals, they will always remain, partially wild.
SeaWorld's cetaceans have killed and attacked before. In 2010, senior trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by Tilikum, an orca implicated in the deaths of three people. In the video below posted on YouTube by madeleinerao, a dolphin virtually mimics the attack on Jillian except nudges the female in the stomach.
During this Digital Journal interview, a spokesperson for the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that dolphins are "no different from a bear, or an alligator, or lions," and should be treated accordingly. Nobody would willingly mass feed these animals during a visit to the zoo, so why is it different for dolphins?
SeaWorld has yet to make any comment on the incident involving Jillian. Chances are they will claim that their dolphins are wild ... but not wild enough to stop the practice. Expectations that the corporation will deem Jillian at fault would not be surprising. Yet ironically, if this dolphin had been any other animal, the consequences would have been grave.
The public feeding of dolphins in the wild is a federal offense but allowed in captivity. Once a dolphin is fed it becomes used to people and its behavior changes. Dolphins in captivity earn their food, and are trained with food. They work for it, or as in feeding pools, beg from little hands bearing fish.
SeaWorld has skirted incidents of public injury before. According to the Sentinel, in 2003, Dana Madrid filed suit against Busch Entertainment Corp after a dolphin leaped on top of her during a Swim With the Dolphins activity at SeaWorld's Discovery Cove.
Madrid's lawsuit contended at the time:
"Prior to the time Plaintiffs entered the water in the pool, agents, servants and employees of Discovery Cove had observed the dolphin Jenny acting 'funny'."
Meanwhile, SeaWorld and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) are about to head back to court. SeaWorld has not yet abated the hazards identified by the government safety agency after the death of Dawn Brancheau writes Tim Zimmermann. SeaWorld initially attributed the trainer's death to trainer error. Sound familiar?
At the end of his personal video which can be viewed here, Thomas wrote, "Thank God it didn't pull her in the water."
Truth is, this dolphin could have pulled Jillian into the water at any moment, and it would have been labeled a tragic but avoidable accident. How long will it be, before it is too late?
Update: A SeaWorld spokesperson finally emerged to defend the dolphin feeding attraction. "Our guests are given clear instructions on how to feed the dolphins in an appropriate and safe way," they said. "Unfortunately, there are times when instructions are not followed."
In other words, it's Jillian's fault.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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