Video shows SeaWorld trainer's underwater struggle with orca

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 25, 2012 11:50 PM
Video shows SeaWorld trainer's underwater struggle with orca

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A newly released video shows a killer whale clamping down on a SeaWorld trainer's foot in 2006 and dragging him underwater, as he tries in vain to get back to the surface for air before the mammal finally sets him loose.

The video, which runs about 15 minutes and had never been shown publicly, was released on Tuesday by The Huffington Post and its contributor David Kirby after they obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The footage was previously shown in court during a federal labor violations case against SeaWorld following the 2010 death of another trainer who was killed by a killer whale in a separate incident.

It shows trainer Ken Peters in 2006 diving into the pool at SeaWorld in San Diego with a killer whale named Kasatka, who then grabs the trainer by the foot and drags him under the surface.

Peters, who is seen flailing his arms in a bid to free himself, eventually manages to escape after the orca surfaces for air. He calmly pats Kasatka and swims rapidly away to safety.

Kasatka held onto Peters' foot for eight minutes, bringing him down and then back to the surface, and that at one point the mammal held him underwater for just over a minute, according to court papers filed as part of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's investigation into the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau two years ago

She was killed in front of horrified spectators at SeaWorld in Orlando when a killer whale named Tilikum dragged her underwater.

Peters suffered a broken foot, according to the court documents.

SeaWorld said in a statement that the video of Peters' struggle with the killer whale been "well documented" and shows an emergency plan "helped result in a successful outcome with minor injuries."

It has said other trainers on the pool deck tossed a net into the water to distract Kasatka and signaled for it to stop by slapping the water.

"SeaWorld's trainer (Peters) returned to work shortly after this incident and remains a member of the team at Shamu Stadium to this day," the company said on Wednesday.

SeaWorld has parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio.

In May, Administrative Law Judge Ken Welsch, who presided over the case in which the video was played in court last year, ordered SeaWorld to protect its trainers from killer whales by physically separating them, such as with barriers.

SeaWorld has not allowed trainers into the water with killer whales since Brancheau's death.

(Reporting by Marty Graham; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Paul Simao)