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SeaWorld San Diego worked to improve safety after several whale trainer injuries

February 25, 2010 |  7:44 am

SeaWorld San Diego, which temporarily closed its Shamu whale attraction on Wednesday after the death of a whale trainer on Florida, has worked to improve safety after several incidents over the last three decades in which trainers were hurt.

The first reported incident occurred in 1971, when an employee suffered puncture wounds when a whale tossed her, according to Times reports. The last reported one was in 2006, when a 33-year-old trainer was hospitalized after a killer whale dragged him to the bottom of the Shamu pool during a show.

There were a series of incidents in the mid-1980s that led to the removal of several executives at the park and new safety measures, according to Times reports.

Trainer Joanne Webber's neck was fractured June 15, 1987, during a practice session when a whale leaped into the air above her, then landed on her "with the full force of 6,000 pounds, fracturing her neck and thrusting her underwater to the bottom of a 40-foot-deep pool," according to a lawsuit she filed.

Ex-trainer Jonathan Smith was injured during a March 1987 performance when two killer whales seized him in their jaws and repeatedly dragged him 32 feet to the bottom of the pool. After about 2 1/2 minutes, during which he was smashed against the floor of the tank, Smith escaped. He was hospitalized nine days with bruised kidneys and ribs and a 6-inch cut on his liver. 

After those incidents, SeaWorld made changes to the whale attractions and said safety was significantly improved.

SeaWorld San Diego has not announced whether its whale attraction will reopen Thursday.

-- Shelby Grad

Photo: ( RED HUBER, ORLANDO SENTINEL / February 24, 2010 )

A SeaWorld employee died this afternoon during an incident at SeaWorld's Shamu Stadium, an Orange County Sheriff's Office official confirmed. Officials said at a press conference that the victim was a female animal trainer who was killed after she was grabbed by one of the theme park's whales at the start of a public show.

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