A video captures a 6,000 lb killer whale at SeaWorld dragging his trainer underwater for 15 minutes before releasing him. The video, which was filmed in 2006, was released as part of the US Secretary of Labor's ongoing litigation against the theme park.
The US Secretary of Labor accuses SeaWorld of endangering several of its trainers by exposing them to dangerous and unpredictable creatures.
The video of the whale, Kasatka, attacking San Diego trainer Ken Peters was presented at a Occupational Safety and Health Administration court hearing in September.
The case foreshadowed the death of trainer Dawn Brancheu in Orlando while he was with another killer whale, Tilikum, in February 2010.
Judge Ken Welsch called the video, which was captured by SeaWorld camera, "chilling."
In the video, Kasatka grabs on to her trainer's foot and does not let go as she plunges in and out of the water.
Peters escapes but then Kasatka charges him over the barrier net.
According to the book Death at SeaWorld, this was the third time that Kasatka attacked.
'She grabbed his ankles, pulling him underwater for several seconds,' David Kirby writes in the book. When he resurfaced, she grabbed him again, this time "rag-dolling" her trainer violently by shaking him back and forth with her powerful neck muscles. Then, slowly and deliberately, as if performing a bizarre underwater pas de deux, the whale began to spiral upward with Peters’ foot in her mouth. Finally Peters told his colleagues to abandon the recall effort since it only seemed to make Kasatka bite down harder.
Kirby notes that Kasatka kept Peters in the middle of the pool, away from other trainers who were trying to rescue him.
At the time, SeaWorld tried to downplay the incident.
'There are times like this. They are killer whales. She did choose to demonstrate her feelings in a way that was unfortunate,' Mike Scarpuzzi, head trainer at SeaWorld, said at the time.
Kirby suggests that Kasatka was angered after she heard her two-year-old child's cries from another pool.
Trainers were eventually able to separate Kasatka from the trainer with a net, but the whale tried to grab Peters away again.
Peters suffered a broken foot and other injuries.
'She didn’t show me any precursors. She didn’t tell me, she didn’t show me,' Peters allegedly told the other trainers after he had been rescued.
He was rushed to the hospital for surgery and said he would never swim with Kasatka again.
Kirby's book gives more examples that showcase the dangers of working at SeaWorld.
His book emphasizes that there are no known records of killer whales attacking humans in the wild.
Kirby spoke to a former SeaWorld staff member that said he was fired from the park in 1995 for his expressive views on the treatment of animals.
'SeaWorld can make the environment safe, according to them, 98 percent of the times,' said Jeffrey Ventre to ABC's 20/20. 'But what happens when the world's top predator decides to go off behavior?'
An even more chilling case was that of Brancheau. Tilikum dragged the trainer down by her ponytail, scalped her, and dismembered her.
Former trainer John Jett told Kirby that trainers were not made fully aware of the safety problems related to killer whale work. However, a senior trainer told the court investigating Brancheau's death that SeaWorld staff were told that they may not survive falling in the water with Tilikum.
'A lack of detailed information was the norm whenever accidents happened at other parks,' said Jett. 'I remember one incident when all of us were pulled from water work for a short time. To this day, I don't know what happened.'
Now, SeaWorld has specific emergency procedures should someone fall into the water with a killer whale.