Trainer in fair condition after killer whale attack during show at SeaWorld San Diego

Thursday, November 30th 2006, 4:18 pm
By: News On 6

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A killer whale that dragged a trainer underwater during a show at SeaWorld Adventure Park may be allowed to perform again despite past incidents stretching back to 1993, park officials said Thursday.

The whale, Kasatka, tried to bite the trainer during a show in 1999, and tried to bite another trainer in 1993.

``Animals who have been involved in incidents like this in the past have been allowed to continue performing,'' SeaWorld San Diego spokesman Dave Koontz said.

Park trainers were examining the female orca and trying to determine what made her grab trainer Ken Peters and twice hold him underwater during a show, Koontz said.

Peters, 39, remained hospitalized with a broken foot but was in good spirits, Koontz said.

Peters was hurt during Wednesday's final show at Shamu Stadium, which has a 36-foot-deep tank.

The show's finale called for Kasatka _ about 17 feet long and well over 5,000 pounds _ to shoot out of the water so Peters could dive off her nose.

As hundreds of spectators watched, the whale and trainer plunged underwater, where Kasatka grabbed Peters by the foot and held him for less than a minute before surfacing, Koontz said.

``The trainer was being pinned by the whale at the bottom of the pool,'' onlooker Karen Ingrande told KGTV-TV.

When they came up, Peters tried to calm the animal by rubbing and stroking its back, but it grabbed him and plunged down again for about another minute.

The crowd ``began to realize there was not something right and the whale was down again under the water. Again they were splashing the water to try to get the whale to come to the surface,'' Ingrande said.

The whale finally released him, and Peters surfaced and swam away. Other trainers stretched a net between him and Kasatka, Koontz said.

He emerged from the tank with one leg of his wet suit torn.

``He tried to stand up on the stage, and that's when we realized there was something wrong with his leg and his foot. He was just white as a ghost,'' spectator Sherri Justice told KFMB-TV in San Diego.

Mike Scarpuzzi, who oversees zoological operations, said Peters has been working with animals for 16 years, including 12 at Shamu Stadium.

``His skills and techniques, and close relationship with the whale played a major role in helping the animal calm down and allowed him to eventually swim out of the pool,'' Scarpuzzi said.

In the 1999 incident, Peters escaped injury by jumping out of the water, park officials said at the time.

Koontz said a different whale dived with a trainer's foot in its mouth two or three weeks ago but obeyed commands to release the trainer and return to the side of the tank. The trainer was not injured.

The park planned to continue the Shamu Stadium shows Thursday using other whales. The park has a total of seven killer whales, including two of Kasatka's offspring, Koontz said.

He did not know whether Kasatka would perform.

Koontz said trainers from the San Diego park and sister parks in San Antonio and Orlando, Fla., planned to confer Thursday to figure out what made the orca grab Peters.

Koontz said the 30-year-old orca had been performing most of its life and was familiar with the routine.

``She's been one of our strongest, most consistent performers,'' he said.

In 2001, Kasatka became the first killer whale to successfully give birth in captivity after being artificially inseminated.