ORLANDO, Fla. – Video showing a killer whale pulling a SeaWorld San Diego trainer underwater and holding him there during a nine-minute ordeal was released after it was presented at OSHA court hearing in September.
The November 2006 video, captured by SeaWorld cameras during a midweek show, was called "chilling" by Judge Ken Welsch, who upheld the OSHA citations against SeaWorld, which requires trainers to remain out of the water and behind barriers during killer whale shows.
The government, which released the video as part of a public records request, argued that the incident shows that highly-trained killer whales can be unpredictable and deadly. Watch the Local 6 report by reporter Mike DeForest by clicking here.
The newly-released video shows a female orca named Kasatka repeatedly dragging trainer Ken Peters underwater as he struggled to get free at SeaWorld San Diego. Kasatka grabbed Peters by the foot and held him underwater for more than a minute before resurfacing. Later, after Peters tried to calm the whale by patting her on the back, the orca again dragged the trainer underwater, this time for nearly 40 seconds.
Other trainers tried to signal the whale to let go of Peters, but Kasatka refused to obey.
Peters again managed to free his foot, and the video shows a look of relief on his face.
Peters then worked his way to the rear of the whale, and when the orca looks the other way, Peters frantically swims for safety over a net. Kasatka, however, swam after him and tried to go over the net.
Peters looks back and sees the orca coming after him and trips and falls as he continues to run away on the edge of the pool.
Incredibly, Peters suffered a broken foot in the incident.
After the video was played at the OSHA hearings in September, Peters took the stand and said he was confident the whale would let go of him if he remained calm.
Despite the close call, SeaWorld San Diego's vice president testified that no safety improvements were made after the incident, other than ordering trainers not to swim with Kasatka and two other orcas.
SeaWorld issued a statement to Local 6 News on Tuesday.
"This incident was well documented and thoroughly covered by the news media in 2006. This video clearly shows the trainer's remarkable composure and the skillful execution of an emergency response plan, both of which helped result in a successful outcome with minor injuries. It should be noted that CalOSHA did not issue any citations to SeaWorld as a result of this incident. SeaWorld's trainer returned to work shortly after this incident and remains a member of the team at Shamu Stadium to this day," SeaWorld said.
Local 6 spoke to tourists who say the show isn't as entertaining with the trainers in the water with the whales, but they understand the safety reasoning.
"The show was definitely not as good without them in the water, but would you want them in the water after seeing that? Probably not," said Joe McCallum, a visitor from Scotland.
Trainer Dawn Brancheau was dragged underwater and killed by an orca named Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010.