MIAMI – The Miami Seaquarium is offering more of an explanation after a trainer was attacked by a dolphin during a show on Saturday.
On Wednesday, the Seaquarium sent Local 10 News a statement that read, in part:
“While demonstrating a practiced behavior as part of the Flipper Show on April 9th, a trainer accidentally scratched the dolphin, Sundance, with her hand. This was undoubtedly painful to Sundance, who reacted by breaking away from the routine and swimming towards and striking the trainer. Both Sundance and the trainer are recovering well.”
The full statement can be read at the bottom of the story.
That’s the Seaquarium’s version of what happened, but a veterinarian who recently worked at the park spoke to Local 10 News on Wednesday.
She believes this was no accident and said it has happened before.
“There’s no accidental collision,” said Dr. Jenna Wallace, a former veterinarian at Miami Seaquarium. “This is aggression.”
Wallace spoke about the frightening moment when the dolphin named Sundance broke from his routine during the Flipper show and went after one of the trainers in the water.
“She’s like launched out of the water and most likely she was rammed with the rostrum of the animal,” said Wallace.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue responded to the scene after the trainer, 28-year-old Alexandria Barry, was finally able to swim to the dock, where she was checked out by first responders.
“I have been told by various sources that she’s in the hospital and that she did have fractured ribs, but I can’t confirm that,” Wallace said. “I hope that she’s doing okay.”
What’s alarming is that Wallace says the dolphin who struck Barry has apparently done the same thing before.
“I have been told by previous veterinarians and staff that this animal had rammed another trainer in the abdomen,” said Wallace.
In fact, during her six months of working at the Seaquarium, Wallace said there were warning signs and that aggression between animals had happened on numerous occasions.
“When dolphins become aggressive like this there’s always some underlying thing,” she said.
According to Wallace, it was mismanagement of the animals that probably sparked it.
“I’ve heard that the diets were significantly lowered, and the amount of interactions were increased,” said Wallace. “If that is the case, then that’s pretty concerning.
“To do that, and you have an animal that has a history of doing this, I mean, you’re just you’re it’s you’re asking for trouble.”
The Miami Seaquarium is currently being investigated by the USDA for serious animal welfare violations. Though the park is now under new ownership and is now part of the Mexican-based The Dolphin Company, many of the same staff and trainers are still there.
“I witnessed them lying to like my superiors and the curators, lying to the inspectors right in front of me,” Wallace said. “And so I provided the evidence, the written documentation, the photos, the videos, it’s like, no, no, this is this is this is the truth.”
Wallace said she has been threatened by others in the marine industry for coming forward and has even been discouraged by colleagues from cooperating with USDA investigators.
Wallace is determined that the truth get out.
Local 10 News reached out to Berry, but she declined to comment for the story.
The Seaquarium also declined an interview request.
Full statement by Miami Seaquarium:
“The Miami Seaquarium has completed its investigation into the accident that took place last weekend. We provide further information and clarification in the statement below:
“While demonstrating a practiced behavior as part of the Flipper Show on April 9th, a trainer accidentally scratched the dolphin, Sundance, with her hand. This was undoubtedly painful to Sundance, who reacted by breaking away from the routine and swimming towards and striking the trainer. Both Sundance and the trainer are recovering well.
“The collision between Sundance and the trainer was something that has never happened before to either of them. As a result, procedures for this presentation, and others, are being evaluated. Adjustments to protocol for trainers and dolphins alike will minimize the chance of future accidents.
“Since taking over management of Miami Seaquarium four weeks ago, we have been evaluating and improving all aspects of our facilities and operations,” said Travis Burke, Executive Director, North America for The Dolphin Company. “Two of our most experienced Dolphin Company corporate trainers are on-site working with the dedicated team here, and we are also consulting daily with the world’s foremost experts in marine mammal care. What happened on Saturday was an accident, something that has never happened before between Sundance and the trainer, and was not the fault of either the trainer or the animal. It is one of the things we have the responsibility to improve for every animal, every trainer and every guest at Miami Seaquarium.”