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Cranky killer whale roughs up trainer

Some days, killer whales just wake up on the wrong side of the pool.

A 21/2-ton orca that dragged a trainer underwater during a show at SeaWorld San Diego may have been put out by a spat with another whale, grumpy because of the weather or just irritable from a stomach ache, according to marine mammal experts.

"Some mornings they just wake up not as willing to do the show as others," said Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research. "If the trainer doesn't recognize it's not a good day, this will happen."

The whale, Kasatka, was back in the water Thursday for a performance that went off without a hitch. But the show was limited to tricks that did not involve trainers getting in the water.

The injured trainer, Ken Peters, 39, underwent surgery Thursday on a broken bone in his foot but was otherwise in good spirits, said Mike Scarpuzzi, vice president of zoological operations at SeaWorld San Diego.

Kasatka, a 30-year-old orca that is about 17 feet long and weighs more than 5,000 pounds, twice held Peters underwater for less than a minute each time during the finale of a show at Shamu Stadium.

The act called for the orca to leap out of the water so Peters could dive off her nose. Instead, as several hundred spectators watched, Kasatka grabbed Peters' foot in her mouth and dragged him toward the bottom of the 36-foot-deep tank.

When they came up, Peters tried to calm the animal by stroking its back, but it grabbed him and plunged down again. The whale released him and Peters was able to surface and swim away. He emerged from the tank with one leg of his wet suit torn.

Kasatka and Peters were involved in a scrape in 1999, when the whale tried to bite him during a show, Scarpuzzi said. The whale also tried to bite a different trainer in 1993.

Killer whales are predators, but "in the wild they're not dangerous to humans," Balcomb said. But in captivity, "they're dangerous because they're big and sometimes they're not happy with their situation."