Five of SeaWorld's Sordid Scandals: Whale Slaves, a "Surgically Opened" Scrotum, and More!

Categories: Animal Planet
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Yesterday we told you about Jillian Thomas, the 8-year-old girl who was feeding dolphins at SeaWorld when one of the animals bit her arm. Don't worry; she was left with three dime-sized puncture wounds and an unbelievably cool anecdote for the rest of her life. 

While a dolphin biting an 8-year-old is terribly bizarre, it's got nothing on some of SeaWorld's past scandals. 

5. Slavery: Last year, PETA (shocker, right?) filed a federal lawsuit claiming that SeaWorld violated the 13th Amendment rights of five killer whales. "By any definition, these orcas are slaves -- kidnapped from their homes, kept confined, denied everything that's natural to them and forced to perform tricks for SeaWorld's profit," PETA attorney Jeff Kerr told the Associated Press. The group took 18 months to prepare the case, which argued that the language of the 13th Amendment didn't specify whether it applied only to humans. Three months later, a federal judge decided that "the only reasonable interpretation of the Thirteenth Amendment's plain language is that it applies to persons, and not to non-persons such as orcas."

4. After-Hours Dip: Daniel Dukes really liked the idea of swimming with the orcas. In 1999, the then-27-year-old Dukes hid out in the Orlando SeaWorld after the park had closed, eluded security, and ended up in the tank with Tillikium, a more-than-five-ton killer whale. The whale "surgically opened the scrotum" of Dukes, according to David Kirby, author of Death at SeaWorld. A medical examiner attributed the death to hypothermia. 

3. Swishy Fishies: Every theme park has some sort of twirling teacup ride. SeaWorld's variation is called Swishy Fishies, and it appears to be rather innocuous as far as theme park rides go. Still, back in 2010, park staff refused to let Derik Goldman, who suffered a "qualified disability" and had a season pass to the park, board the ride while carrying a bag that contained medications. Goldman explained that he had been on the ride many times over the year and that he was ill and might need his medication at a moment's notice. Rather than just be cool and let him board, the carnie operating the ride insisted that Goldman rent one of those tiny lockers that amusement parks bank on. Goldman eventually sued the park on grounds that it violated the American With Disabilities Act. 

2. Brutal Death: The grizzly death of Dawn Brancheau made national headlines in 2010. The 40-year-old SeaWorld trainer was giving Tillikium -- the same killer whale implicated in Daniel Dukes' death -- a rubdown after a show when the whale snatched her ponytail and began dragging her through the pool in front of a large crowd. The death was grizzly: Brancheau suffered a busted jaw, dislocated elbows and knees, and fractured vertebra. Her scalp was essentially torn off her skull, and her sternum was crushed. She ultimately died of blunt-force trauma to her head, neck, and torso.

1. Nightmares: A few months after the death of Brancheau, the family of 10-year-old Bobby Connell filed suit against SeaWorld. The claim? Connell was in the crowd the day Brancheau died and watched the brutal scene unfold in its entirety. The suit claimed that Connell looked into Brancheau's eyes as the killer whale destroyed her. As a result, the family said Connell suffered vivid nightmares for months and was often angry. 


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