An everyday performance at the Miami Seaquarium devolved into a horror show when a trained dolphin attacked a female trainer, the entire incident captured on video by those in attendance and subsequently posted to social media.
The shocking incident took place last spring, on the afternoon of April 9. According to audience members, the attack occurred about 10 minutes into the Florida aquarium’s Flipper Dolphin Show.
@scphoto_ky A dolphin trainer was just attacked by Flipper. Police just arrived. :( #dolphinattack #miami #seaquarium ♬ original sound – Shannon Carpenter Photography
In the clip, the trainer visibly splashes in the water for help. At first, it appears as though it could be part of the show. It soon becomes clear, however, that the enraged dolphin had gone off script.
“[It] looked like the dolphin rammed into the trainer,” Shannon Carpenter, witness to the incident and owner of the footage, told WSVN. “There was a struggle, some kind of collision underwater happened.”
“The lady on the paddleboard, she paddled out of the water pretty quick,” he continued. “And then the lead trainer started swimming back towards the dock, and it looked like she got ran into a couple more times.”
After the other trainer helped her from the water, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue arrived to treat any injuries, transporting her to the hospital via ambulance shortly thereafter. The extent of the trainer’s injuries remains undisclosed. Following the attack, a third trainer continued the show as usual with the dolphin.
Trainer Reportedly ‘Scratched’ Dolphin, Causing the Animal to Attack
In a statement released after the incident and subsequent investigation, the aquarium explained that the trainer “accidentally scratched the dolphin” during the performance. “This was undoubtedly painful to Sundance [the dolphin], who reacted by breaking away from the routine and swimming towards and striking the trainer. Both Sundance and the trainer are recovering well.”
The aquarium added that this was the first instance of a dolphin attack on a trainer. “As a result, procedures for this presentation, and others, are being evaluated,” they said. “Adjustments to protocol for trainers and dolphins alike will minimize the chance of future accidents.”
Marine mammal expert Naomi A Rose explained that the dolphin was in no way playfully or even lightly striking the trainer. While it’s difficult to determine exactly what happened based on the video alone, she believes the dolphin “rammed” the trainer. This type of attack can result in serious injury or even death.
Dolphins react this way when they’re “frustrated by something,” she told Newsweek. “If they run into a trainer, it’s usually on purpose. … Even if the trainer was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the dolphin would have been able to avoid a collision.”
As a general rule, dolphins are friendly, highly social animals. However, like any other species of wildlife, they cannot be domesticated and can become aggressive when stressed, particularly in captivity. Despite this fact, around 3,000 dolphins are housed in aquariums and other exhibits worldwide.