The animal-rights group People for Ethical Treatment of Animals has asked the US Department of Agriculture to investigate a report of a dolphin biting a park-goer at SeaWorld of San Antonio, Texas.
PETA said in its request that a 9-year-old girl was bitten by a dolphin on February 22 while she was trying to pet it. SeaWorld's Dolphin Cove exhibit allows visitors to touch and view the dolphins.
"This incident and exhibit clearly endangered both the dolphin and the public," said PETA counsel Brittany Peet in the request, which she described as an "apparent Animal Welfare Act violation." AWA's 9CFR 2.131 (c)(1) requires "sufficient distance and/or barriers between animal and the general viewing public so as to assure the safety of animals and the public."
"It's stressful enough for far-ranging dolphins to be locked up in SeaWorld's tiny tanks, but forcing them to interact with visitors is downright dangerous," says general counsel to PETA Jeff Kerr. "SeaWorld's 'Dolphin Cove' is another example of how the park's main priority is profit, not the welfare of the animals or the safety of its guests."
David Perle, a PETA spokesman, told ABCNews.com that other children have been bitten by animals at SeaWorld's parks. "Most recently in December 2012 an 8-year-old girl sustained puncture wounds while hand-feeding a dolphin at SeaWorld Orlando. And many more trainers have been injured and even killed by animals at SeaWorld-the park has more than 100 incidents of Orca aggression in its own incomplete records," he said.
In her request, Peet said that the girl was petting a dolphin at the park's Dolphin Cove when it latched onto her hand and wrist so tightly that the child's mother was unable to free her and a SeaWorld employee had to intervene.
The girl sustained bite marks and swelling to her hand and wrist, PETA said.
PETA declined to put ABCNews.com in touch with the family of the girl, saying that they wish to remain anonymous.
SeaWorld San Antonio spokesman Brian Carter told ABCNews.com that they have not received any word from USDA on the incident. "We [SeaWorld] are fully investigating this incident and we regret the guest experienced this during her visit. SeaWorld provides thousands of safe interactions between our guests and animals each day, and incidents like this are few and far between," he said. After the incident the girl and her family stayed in the park and visited other attractions.
Carter also said that the SeaWorld staff that was present at Dolphin Cove during the incident responded quickly to assist the guest.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is owned by Blackstone Group and operates parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio.
The USDA didn't immediately return a request for comment.