Jillian Thomas loves dolphins, so her parents planned a trip to SeaWorld so she could see her favorite animals. When she had fed her fish to the dolphins she lifted the plate to show her mum it was empty, the dolphin jumped out of the water and shut its mouth around her hand. Jillian's dad, Jamie Thomas, was videoing and caught the whole incident on camera.
"The first thing I thought was I would have to jump in the water and save my daughter's life," Thomas said. "I literally thought she was going to be pulled into the water."
Amy Thomas said they each paid $7 extra to feed fish to the dolphins at the popular attraction. Guests are given instructions not to wear loose jewelry, touch the dolphin’s head and, under any circumstances, move the paper tray holding the fish from the edge of the pool.
“I am such an overprotective parent that if I knew my child might get bitten I would not have even let my daughter do this,” she said. “But I felt safe. Everyone just imagines dolphins as smiling, nonbiting animals with knobby teeth. You forget these are wild animals.”
It was the second time that day her daughter had visited the dolphin cove and Jillian may have forgotten the rules in her excitement, her mother said.
“The second it happened, one of the employees came over to Jillian to ask her if she had a positive experience and realized she was bleeding,” Amy Thomas said. “(Jillian) made a mistake, but you can’t hold a minor responsible for that.”
A first-aid provider treated Jillian’s wounds and asked if she had had a tetanus shot, but her parents were told they had no reason to worry.
They expected a manager to talk to them but they were given ice and a bandage, the family said.
“It was strange how they downplayed the whole thing,” Thomas said. “At the time we thought we were at fault but these are children. We just want other parents to know the dangers.”
When he asked employees whether bites occurred frequently, they replied that it was rare.
The Atlanta-area family said they don’t plan taking any legal action against the theme park but would like officials to either raise the age for children participating in the attraction and remind parents that dolphins bite.
SeaWorld officials said in a statement they had not seen the video but are taking the matter seriously.
“Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our guests, employees and animals,” the statement said.