Video shows a SeaWorld dolphin lunging and biting a girl's hand for a few seconds
Her family faults SeaWorld for insufficient warnings and the response after the girl was bit
A SeaWorld spokeswoman says the 8-year-old girl got immediate treatment
She adds that the girl didn't follow "specific instructions" meant to prevent such incidents
SeaWorld defended itself Sunday from criticism from a family after a dolphin bit their 8-year-old daughter at the Orlando attraction.
A video posted online shows the girl standing along the edge of a pool, one of several people feeding dolphins. After she picks up a paper plate that once held the marine mammal’s food, a dolphin lunges at her and bites her hand.
The dolphin let go after a few seconds, but not before leaving three puncture wounds on the girl’s hand.
In a statement, SeaWorld spokeswoman Becca Bides said on-site “educators and animal care staff … immediately connected with the family. In addition, a member of our health services team was in the area at Dolphin Cove and quickly responded and treated the young girl.”
Yet in an interview with CNN Atlanta affiliate WSB, the family at the center of the November 21 incident faulted the central Florida attraction’s staff for not warning them the dolphins might bite and for their response after the girl was injured.
“We felt powerless,” the girl’s father, Jamie Thomas, said in explaining their decision to post a video on YouTube. “We thought, look, we’ve got this video, let’s make it public, and let’s try to put some pressure on SeaWorld to make some changes.”
The 8-year-old, Jillian Thomas, said she “accidentally held” up the paper plate, after which the dolphin “jumped up and ate the carton and bit my hand.”
“I was thinking it was going to haul me into the water,” she said. “And this is a little crazy, but I thought it was … going to eat my hand off.”
Jamie Thomas said those feeding the dolphins were told the paper plate should stay on the wall, “but we really didn’t know why.” No one signed a disclaimer, and there were no signs indicating any risk, the father said.
The girl’s mother, Amy Thomas, said she was upset about SeaWorld staffers’ response.
“They did not tell us to look out for any signs of infection,” the mother said. “We had to ask for Band-Aids.”
The Thomas family never contacted SeaWorld after leaving the park, Bides said.
She defended the attraction and its protocol, including “specific instructions to not pick up the paper trays at any time.”
“Our guests are given clear instructions on how to feed the dolphins in an appropriate and safe way,” Bides said. “… Unfortunately, there are times when instructions are not followed.”