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OSHA Reaction From A SeaWorld Trainer

June 4, 2012

No more of this?

Over the weekend I opened my e-mail to find this reaction to Judge Welsch’s OSHA ruling from a current SeaWorld trainer with many years of experience. It has always been clear that some (though not all) trainers have to deal with a number of contradictory feelings about working with orcas in captivity. But I thought this revealed the bitter honesty of at least one person’s mindset, and I wonder how many other trainers think like this:

I read the 47 page ruling and thought his sharp criticism of the culture and upper management was awesome. And to be honest with you, it made me sick to my stomach. I have known these abuses for years but to see it in affirmed in black and white was sickening.  I’m a little ashamed that I allowed this company to take advantage of and abuse me (and the whales) for years because of my own selfishness to want these experiences.  It reminded me of how an abused person behaves and justifies the actions of their abusers.  Even the fact that SeaWorld testified that they had no knowledge that it was dangerous for us to work with the whales.  I love that the judge pointed out how ridiculous it was for them to say that.  But all of us trainers sat back and allowed them to say such disgusting things because we wanted to swim, we wanted to keep our jobs, etc.

His ruling finally called bullshit on this cult-like atmosphere we live in and ultimately support as killer whale trainers for SeaWorld.  Even the spin machine that has begun is mind blowing.  Jim Atchison’s email to all employees is unbelievable.  Trainers at the killer whale stadium who had not seen the news yet and only had information from his email actually believed we had won! Some trainers found a lot to be concerned about in the ruling, but aren’t getting many answers from upper management. A Curator even said that this doesn’t mean anything and that they would continue on as they have been and continue to progress as they see fit. And some trainers didn’t even want to know any details because they love the job so much they didn’t want to hear bad news. Some are senior people and supervisors, which just shows how incredibly brainwashed many still are.

I’ve long felt that trainers at SeaWorld have to be able to achieve a certain degree of cognitive dissonance to be able to say on the one hand that they love the

Or this?

killer whales, and on the other hand be witness to the early deaths, the tooth drilling, the sunburnt skin, the social instability and aggression. and all the other chronic effects of captivity. And I have always suspected that many were able to achieve this cognitive dissonance because what killer whale training is really about for them is the sheer exhilaration of experiencing, bonding with, and swimming with, one of the planet’s most extraordinary animals. In other words, it was about the trainers’ fantasies and trainers’ desires–no matter how much spin and PR would try to convince you otherwise–not the needs and well-being of the killer whales in their care.

If Welsch’s ruling stands, perhaps it will be harder to maintain this cognitive dissonance, because the ultimate experience of working with a killer whale–waterwork–could be gone. So maybe the reality will start to trump the fantasy for more trainers. Already I am hearing lots of noise about trainers moving out of various Shamu stadiums, to stadiums such as Whale and Dolphin where there continues to be waterwork. Though I don’t know the motivation or reasons for any trainer movement, I have had some people tell me that work at Shamu Stadium without waterwork can be kind of a grind. So maybe more trainers will seek work away from Shamu Stadium, or even start thinking about moving on from SeaWorld altogether.

One more note: Last Friday I was on the Sam Simon show, which is always an interesting discussion because Simon (follow him on Twitter here) is passionate about the topic of orcas. Former SeaWorld trainer Jeff Ventre, over at Voice Of the Orcas, posted the audio.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2012 4:37 pm

    Who exactly is your source? Which trainer at which park?

    • June 4, 2012 4:45 pm

      Um, can you imagine that the trainer who sent me that comment would want me to publish that information? Of that I would break confidentiality? Sometimes sources want to remain anonymous, and for good reason.

      • SmutGal permalink
        June 6, 2012 6:43 am

        Um, then how do you know this actually came from a trainer? You have no proof as well. This message provides no details and can EASILY be made up. Actually, I could write a more detailed email than this.

        You realize that right, Mr. Zimmermann?

        And remember? Loro Parque released information that Morgan might be deaf. Anti-caps “called bullshit” and refused to believe it. Anyone, ANYONE IN THE WHOLE WORLD, could troll and create this email, yet all of a sudden, it’s OK to believe anything without proof? Aren’t I correct? Either that, this is an apprentice trainer, who just got the job 5 minutes ago. And FTY, apprentice trainers aren’t trainers – they are just helpers that don’t actually train the whales. They are more like paid interns. And trainers don’t say “Some are senior people and supervisors,” Senior people? LOL. This message is not from a trainer. Anyone with common sense can see that, not to mention there is absolutely no proof this came from a trainer.

        You don’t even have proof, yet you still think it’s a great idea to post it!

      • June 7, 2012 4:22 pm

        I know who the trainer is, and would not have posted it if I wasn’t 100 percent confident of the source. Readers are free to trust that this came from an experienced trainer or not.

      • SmutGal permalink
        June 8, 2012 4:46 pm

        Is the trainer an actually trainer or an associate?

  2. June 4, 2012 5:39 pm

    I can understand why they would want to remain anonymous as to not risk losing their job. This information is very revealing. Thanks to you and the trainer for sharing!

    • Blah permalink
      June 5, 2012 12:29 am

      If the trainer is so unhappy with the current situation then why doesn’t he or she just quit? If you’re going to speak out against a job you don’t enjoy then why do it anonymously? Speak out and quit then.

      • June 5, 2012 4:46 am

        Many possible reasons: it’s a tough economy and being a trainer at SW does not really prepare you for that many other careers outside the industry; the belief that you will care for the whales better than whoever will follow you; a reluctance to give up on the orca fantasy; etc. Though maybe if there is no waterwork more trainers who have doubts about what they are doing will step away.

  3. Tam permalink
    June 4, 2012 5:47 pm

    Thank you Tim for helping to shed light on the greedy and cruel industry that is animal captivity and the using (and abusing) of animals for our entertainment.Whoever your source is, thank you for protecting that person,who is also to be admired for seeing the truth under all the mountains of BS the “Seaworlds” of the world bury it.Hopefully, one day soon, these horrible parks will be used for better purposes that do not involve the torture of animals.

  4. June 4, 2012 7:11 pm

    thank you Tim for everything you do. By the way, yes the only explanation to me is that these trainer are delusional, they are blinded by the thrill to be with these animals and they do not see the true facts. How can they claim they love these animals. I mean im no expert, no scientist, but i just read about the way these animals leave in the wild and when i hear the way they live in marine parks i can immediately see that is wrong. If they go and read about these animals in the wild, there would be no way they can believe they can befriend these animals and that these animals live a fair life in these tanks. I do not see any friendship, i see overpowering of a human being over an animal, who does what it is said to do because it is hungry and that is the only option left to it. Untill they have enough, as we have seen. Do they really think they can be friend with these animals? really? Thanks to all the people who care about these incredible amazing gift of God animals.

  5. Orcinus Orca permalink
    June 5, 2012 11:02 am

    Did you know that Sea World at one time had a couple of Orcas [ Killer Whales ] in their public access petting pool in California? It’s true. I was going to college at the time and got to know them on my own from outside the training culture. A total of four young Orcas [ 2M and 2F ] were cycled through the tank in pairs. Here is one of them.

    I did not use food to trick them over. I simply spent a lot of time at the tank waiting for them to come over on their own to check me out. Once they got to know me and mutual trust was established, they allowed me to do things like the above picture shows.

    What has changed since that time to the present? Was Sea World risking the public by putting Orcas in such an open access display? Is it the decades living in a cement swimming pool compared to the open ocean that has made them aggressive? Is it the fact that the humans disappear at night and return in the morning which upsets the cetaceans cultural norms? Separation in the open ocean usually means death.

    Of the four Orcas I got to know, two are still alive :

    SWC-00-7801 – Kotar – male
    SWC-00-7804 – Kasatka – female
    SWC-00-7806 – Katina – female
    SWC-00-7705 – Canuck 2 – male

    Interestingly enough, it is the two females, one in California and one in Florida who now lead their respective pods. I wonder if they would remember me after all this time. My research has not found any public record of any communication attempts with orcas, only bottle nose dolphins. I feel it is time to “step up the game” and try communicating with the Orcas, who are the largest dolphin, Flipper’s big brother if you will.

    I think it’s long past time that we started.

    I am not now nor ever have been a trainer or employed by facility that has cetaceans. I simply was willing to spend time getting to know them, building a relationship with them. Showing them my trust in them that they would not hurt me and in turn being showed that I was trusted by being allowed to do things like a pec rub or having them lay their flukes in my arms for a rub down. I made mistakes along the way and have scars to show for it. It was a learning experience for both of us. They tested me often and I was able to teach them about how fragile humans are compared to them. When one grabbed an arm up to the elbow in his mouth testing my trust, I was able to teach him how much pressure I could stand and what level I was comfortable with. Afterwards I was never grabbed harder than the comfort level I had established, by *any* of them, so they obviously were able to exchange this information amount themselves. On their records are listed several times where Katina and Kasatka have ‘mouthed’ a body part of a trainer for various reasons. It’s a good thing I taught them about human frailty when I did or it could have been bad for the trainer. Or it shows considerable intelligent restraint on their part.

    Cetaceans are intelligent and do have a language. I’ve been involved in three different interspecies communications projects in my life, and have many hundreds of hours of hands on experience with them. I’ve swum with both wild and captive dolphins. All were successful to some degree and within the limits of what was trying to be done.

    What is really needed is communication, to be able to converse with this intelligence and learn more about it.

    The problem is *frequency* not language.

    The majority of their vocal range [ up to 250 Khz for some species ] is above the human hearing range [ tops out at 20-22 Khz ]. Humans are simply not designed to hear what Cetaceans are saying. Because of this some technology, i.e. computers, are required for effective and useful communication to take place. Back on JANUS, the computers being used then [ 1985 ], a DEC PDP-11 and two Apple II+s as terminals were simply not up to the task of analyzing the dolphins sounds despite being state of the art at the time. Now, decades later I think they are. I’ve been working on the specifications and design of such a system. A prototype system could be built without too much difficulty or expense. Some of the hardware that was required in the past can now be done in computer software making it easier and more adaptable as well.

    Being able to talk to Cetaceans would be what SETI has been trying to do for years by looking outward find an Alien Intelligence. Perhaps they should turn inward and look to Cetaceans? They certainly have the computing power that would be necessary for realtime two way communication. It would also certainly be a non human [ alien ] intelligence, and its effect on human culture would be just as profound. Maybe even more profound.

    Is the human race ready for such a breakthrough?

    Would an “Alien Intelligence” be more acceptable to the human race if it came from home [ earth ] instead of “Out There”? I think it might.

    What would human race do if we cracked the communications barrier and Tilikum said “You guys used to get in the water and play. I’m sorry, it was an accident.” That would certainly alter the perspective of the issue at the very least. Hopefully it would also mean we stop hunting them for “Scientific Research”.

    Humans have been mostly limited to the land [ 25% of the planet ] for most of history, so who is to say that an intelligent species did not develop in the remaining 75% over the history of the planet? Especially when the territorial ranges don’t overlap.

    • Andrew Randrianasulu permalink
      June 22, 2012 1:43 am

      …. sounds interesting. May be i even remember your writings from another, old forum. I hope you can drop me a line via email, or do the same to Tim and hopefully we will have some topics to discuss. (FYI i’m from Russia – so, no orcas here. But some of your thoughts definitely not alien to me)

    • June 25, 2012 12:44 pm

      Your comment about SETI is interesting, and in fact I am in the process of writing about an effort to establish two-way communication with a group of wild dolphins. It is not part of SETi, but SETI knows all about it and is very interested in the outcome.

      • Orcinus Orca permalink
        June 26, 2012 12:41 am

        Thank you. They have the needed computing power at hand to make it a cake walk, if they chose to apply it.

        Would that happen to be Diana Reiss and the pod down in the Bahamas?

        I hope they have moved past trying keyboards and playing back recorded sounds this time. Frequency translation is the key. All it requires is a simple device that a lot of people still use everyday. Acting like sort of a bridge between the human range and the Dolphin range.

    • RataTatTat permalink
      June 10, 2012 10:01 pm

      One of the article’s comments is eerily resonant to that of your current trainer’s thoughts.

  6. June 11, 2012 7:14 am

    Sorry, but I’m not buying this whole “anonymous trainer” thing. Anyone can make anything up and make it try to sound plausible. Unless I hear words being spoken DIRECTLY from a current trainer’s own mouth with me standing in front of them while they are speaking I won’t believe what I read from some blog. Not buying this hogwash at all, sorry.

    • June 26, 2012 12:34 pm

      This is authentic. And another current senior level trainer has spoken out, also anonymously, to protect his job. Please look for it in the new book, “Death at SeaWorld.”


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