July 25, 2012 — -- The just-released 2006 video of a veteran trainer at SeaWorld being grabbed by his leg and dragged under water by a 5,000-pound killer whale indicates that the animal might have been trying to send a message, the journalist who obtained the video said.
"I think she was trying to tell him, 'Hey, I got to go take care of my kid ... she's calling for me, and I don't want to perform,'" said David Kirby, who made the video public for his new book, "Death at SeaWorld."
Ken Peters, then 39, was seen flailing helplessly as he is dragged underwater by Kasatka, a 30-year-old killer whale that he'd trained for years.
Kasatka, who was featured in performances at SeaWorld's San Diego theme parks, is seen rag-dolling Peters, holding him underwater as a minute passes, then bringing him up. Then she releases him, and Peters thrashes for the edge of the pool. Trying to run, Peters stumbles, his feet mangled.
"If she wanted to kill him, she would have killed him," former trainer Thad Lacinak said. "We are taught to remain calm. If you get excited, the animal will get excited."
Kirby says that Peters is incredibly lucky to be alive.
"He's kicking his legs, trying to keep her away from his body, and then she grabs him again, and down they go," Kirby said.
The video became a dramatic piece of evidence in a Florida courtroom in the fall of 2011, when federal regulators defended their decision to issue a citation against SeaWorld. This came after a fatal incident at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010, when 40-year-old trainer Dawn Brancheau was pulled underwater and killed by the 11,000-pound killer whale Tilikum.
That was the whale's third fatal attack on a human. After a year long hiatus after the incident, Tilikum returned to performing at SeaWorld in March 2011.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration claimed the theme park put trainers like Brancheau at risk, and that this video proves SeaWorld was aware of the dangers.
In response to the case at the time, SeaWorld asserted it was unaware the whales could be deadly, and told ABC News Tuesday that after the 2006 incident, Peters "showed skillful execution of an emergency response plan" and "returned to work shortly after this incident and remains a member of the team at Shamu Stadium to this day."