A dolphin at a SeaWorld petting pool has bitten a young child, prompting an internal investigation by the company and a formal complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It was the second such incident reported at a SeaWorld park in just over two years.
PETA published an article on its website yesterday stating that “a dolphin at SeaWorld San Antonio’s Dolphin Cove latched onto the hand and wrist of a 9-year-old girl so tightly that the child’s mother was unable to free her and a SeaWorld employee had to intervene.”
The child’s mother, who does not want to be identified or interviewed, sent PETA a photo of the dolphin clamping down on her daughter’s hand.
PETA has now filed “a formal complaint with the USDA asking the agency to investigate and hold SeaWorld accountable for endangering both the dolphin and the public in violation of federal law,” according to the article. That law requires sufficient distance and or barriers between the animals and the general viewing public.
According to the complaint, the attending staff member tried to blame the child for her injuries, claiming the dolphin bit her "because she held out her hand in a way that made it look as if she was holding a treat," even though the girl was given "no instruction whatsoever to not hold her hand in that manner." SeaWorld did not “offer the victim first-aid, though the victim suffered bite marks and swelling to her skin," the PETA letter contended.
The park, in a statement quoted in the San Antonio News-Express, disputed that account. “SeaWorld staff was present at Dolphin Cove during the incident, and responded quickly to assist the guest, who received on-site medical evaluation,” the statement said.
The incident was eerily similar to an injury at a feeding pool at SeaWorld Orlando in December 2012, when a bottlenose dolphin bit an eight-year-old, causing puncture wounds to her arm. PETA also demanded a USDA investigation at the time, which led the government to cite the park for several violations concerning deteriorating animal habitats. In a previous incident in 2006, two adults at SeaWorld Orlando had to pry open a dolphin's mouth to free a seven-year-old from its grip.
“SeaWorld has repeatedly shown a complete disregard for federal laws meant to protect animal welfare and public safety and has tried to brush off this latest incident,” wrote Jared Goodman, director of animal law at PETA Foundation. The park, according to Goodman, “refuses to take responsibility for its failures.”
Biting incidents like this are a boon to anti-captivity activists, who believe that human-dolphin interactions alongside tiny concrete pools are “physically and psychologically harmful to the animals and dangerous to the public,” Goodman said.
“SeaWorld conveys the false message to young children that it is OK to treat complex, intelligent, and social animals as mere side shows,” he added. “Kids need to be taught to respect animals, not exploit them.”