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updated: 12/3/2012 9:18 AM

Ga. girl recalls painful dolphin bite at SeaWorld

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Associated Press

ATLANTA -- An 8-year-old Georgia girl says it "really, really hurt" when a dolphin snatched her hand in its mouth while she fed the animal as part of an attraction at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla.

Jillian Thomas of Alpharetta said she raised the paper carton she was holding, and "when the dolphin saw that, it leaped at me and bit me, ate the carton."

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"It really, really hurt," Jillian said in an interview Monday with ABC's "Good Morning America."

Jillian suffered three puncture wounds to her hand. Her father Jamie Thomas, who was with her at the theme park when the dolphin lunged from its pool Nov. 21, described his reaction as: "Instant fear."

After his initial thought that he might have to dive into the tank to rescue his daughter, a SeaWorld employee offered to help.

"They asked if she wanted first aid, and I said 'She's bleeding' so yes, we want first aid," he recalled.

Jillian held two dolphin stuffed animals as she recounted the ordeal, saying she hoped the dolphin didn't get sick from eating the paper carton. She's prayed for the animal at night, she said.

The paper cartons are used to hold fish children and others feed the dolphins. Jillian's parents say park-goers may not realize the risk involved in feeding dolphins, which is why they posted video of the Nov. 21 bite to YouTube, so parents can decide for themselves whether it is safe.

SeaWorld officials said in a statement that the safety of their guests is paramount, and they are taking the situation seriously.

"Educators and animal care staff are always on-site at this area, monitoring all interactions and are committed to guest safety," SeaWorld said in the statement.

"Educators and animal care staff were at the attraction when this happened and immediately connected with the family," SeaWorld said. "In addition, a member of our health services team was in the area at Dolphin Cove and quickly responded and treated the young girl."

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