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
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.