ORLANDO (CBSMiami) — An 8-year-old Georgia girl was having the time of her life, getting up close and personal while feeding the dolphins at a recent visit to SeaWorld in Orlando, until one of the dolphins snatched her hand in its mouth.
Jillian Thomas said she raised the paper carton she was holding, and “when the dolphin saw that, it leaped at me and bit me, and ate the carton.”
Jillian said it “really, really hurt.”
Her mom and dad captured the entire incident on video. Jillian had just finished feeding the dolphins at the popular “Dolphin Cove” attraction. When she picked up the empty paper tray to say she was done, a dolphin leapt out of the water and closed its jaws on the 8-year-old’s arm and pulled her toward the pool before letting go.
Jillian suffered three puncture wounds to her hand. Her father Jamie Thomas, who was with her at the theme park when the dolphin lunged from its pool Nov. 21, described his reaction as “instant fear.”
After his initial thought that he might have to dive into the tank to rescue his daughter, a SeaWorld employee offered to help.
“They asked if she wanted first aid, and I said ‘she’s bleeding’ so yes, we want first aid,” he recalled.
Jillian held two dolphin stuffed animals as she recounted the ordeal, saying she hoped the dolphin didn’t get sick from eating the paper carton. She’s prayed for the animal at night, she said.
The paper cartons are used to hold the fish that children and others feed the dolphins. Jillian’s parents say park-goers may not realize the risk involved in feeding dolphins, which is why they posted video of the Nov. 21 bite to YouTube, so parents can decide for themselves whether it is safe.
SeaWorld officials said in a statement that the safety of their guests is paramount, and they are taking the situation seriously.
“Educators and animal care staff are always on-site at this area, monitoring all interactions and are committed to guest safety,” SeaWorld said in the statement.
“Educators and animal care staff were at the attraction when this happened and immediately connected with the family,” SeaWorld said. “In addition, a member of our health services team was in the area at Dolphin Cove and quickly responded and treated the young girl.”
The Thomas’ also said they were told repeatedly not to pick up the trays but the 8-year-old just made a mistake.
“She just says she forgot and as you can see in the video moved the plate just to say she was done,” said Amy Thomas.
Jillian’s hand is now pretty much healed but the scary event will last her lifetime and maybe longer on YouTube. Her father posted this video to warn other parents.
“We really felt powerless. So we thought we got this video let’s make it public and let’s try to put some pressure on SeaWorld to make some changes,” said Jamie Thomas, Jillian’s father.
The family said it does not plan to take any legal action, but wants SeaWorld to raise the age limit or warn parents that dolphins can and do bite.