A fed up dolphin went rogue over the weekend and bodyslammed a Miami Seaquarium trainer in front of an audience of gasping children.
Video footage of the attack captured by a member of the audience shows the dolphin — known as “Sundance” — hurling its body at the trainer. Sundance rammed its rostrum into her side three times. At one point during the quick exchange, Sundance managed to briefly pull the trainer under the water before the human struggled free and swam to the pool’s edge. Once out of the water, the trainer was treated by medical staff. The unexpected attack occurred during Seaquarium’s “Flipper” show. Seaquarium said both the trainer, who has not been identified, and Sundance are recovering well from the incident.
In a statement provided to local outlet WPLG Local 10, a Miami Seaquarium spokesperson said the attack occurred after the trainer accidentally scratched Sundance with her hand. “This was undoubtedly painful to Sundance, who reacted by breaking away from the routine and swimming towards and striking the training,” the spokesperson said.
Former Miami Seaquarium staff veterinarian Jenna Wallace, on the other hand, wasn’t convinced the incident was an accident at all and said she saw signs of unease among the park’s animals brewing for some time.
“When dolphins specifically become aggressive like this there’s always some sort of underlying thing,” Wallace told WPLG. “I’ve heard that the diets were significantly lowered and the amount of interactions were increased.”
Worse still, Wallace claimed this wasn’t Sundance’s first time lashing out at humans. “I have been told by previous veterinarians and staff that this animal had rammed another trainer in the abdomen,” Wallace said.
The Miami Seaquarium did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Last year, the Miami Seaquarium found itself on the receiving end of a 17-page USDA inspection report which documented a slew of alleged animal welfare violations. The report claimed staff had fed animals poor quality, rotting fish and repeatedly acted against veterinarians’ instructions. Two bottlenose dolphins have died at Seaquarium, according to the report.
Animals rights group Peta released a statement on Tuesday calling out the Seaquarium’s animal welfare practices.
“Time is up for the Miami Seaquarium, where long-suffering dolphins desperately need protection and workers are at risk,” the organisation said. “Peta urges this abusement park to end its exploitation of dolphins by getting them to sanctuaries as quickly as possible, so that they’d never be used in tawdry shows again and no one else would get hurt.”
Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.