I often hear (or see) a lot of commentary from young aspiring orca trainers, whose passionate dream it is to work at SeaWorld. So it is very refreshing to be hearing from aspiring orca trainers who changed their minds.
Take, for example, Kelsey Prosser, who just posted this comment:
As a 3-yr old little girl, my parents took me to SeaWorld in SD, California. I fell in love with the orcas, and from then on, it was my lifelong dream to become a “marine biologist” and work with orcas. SeaWorld was my goal, and nothing was going to stop me from becoming an orca trainer. Until I went on a whale watch in the San Juan Islands and saw orcas in the wild for the first time: powerful, social, vocal, and free. They had the ocean to roam, and no concrete tank to stop them. I even had the great privilege of watching Residents hunt for salmon and Transients hunting harbor seals. I spoke with local orca biologists who work with these animals in the wild and read as much as I possibly could on orcas in captivity, and after 21 years as an aspiring orca trainer, I have changed my mind. These animals belong in the ocean. They are intelligent, social, incredible marine mammals and they deserve a life of freedom. In the wild, orcas can reach 90+ years! J-2, an orca known as “Granny,” is 102 years old! In captivity, a 30-yr old orca is considered lucky. To all of you want-to-be-trainers, I simply ask that you think about the animals you are so in love with. What’s best for them? To be locked in an acoustically-straining tank with no natural surroundings, no social structure, and no room to roam and hunt? Or to live free with their family pods for their entire lives, hunting and playing at will? If this is your passion, won’t you want what is best for them? Is it selfish to want to work with them in a tank, even though deep down you know it’s not the best living situation for an intelligent marine mammal? I, too, was once that young girl with a dream. Now, I finally see the reality of the situation and know that my dream is to ensure that these animals are protected and studied in our world’s oceans, so that they may live full, happy lives. Now a Master’s student in Biology, I am still aiming toward a career with orcas, but my dream has changed: instead of working as an orca trainer, I am striving to study orca in their natural environment as well as teach others about their beauty and their behavior in the wild and the importance of conservation.
Kelsey zeroes in on the number one contradiction of orca training: if it is about loving the animals how do trainers rationalize the aggression, rakes and injuries, and captivity-related stress that they see? This is the contradiction that every trainer I know who eventually turned against captivity struggled with. And to the oft-asked question of why they worked so long at SeaWorld if the were uncomfortable with what they saw and experienced, they almost always explain that they had a hard time stepping out of SeaWorld because they worried that no one would care for the whales as well as they did (though some just say it took a while for the reality to supplant the corporate and management BS).
Kelsey’s comment is especially on point, because it tracks the logic and questions that arise when an aspiring killer whale trainer focuses not on his or her own interests and dreams but on the interests of the whales. I have always felt that a dream to train killer whales is not about love for the whales. It is about love for the thrilling experience of working with whales. But that thrill is the trainer’s thrill. The whales did not choose to be at a marine park, or dream of working with humans (okay, I don’t know that for sure, but I think it’s a pretty reasonable assumption). So to me a dream of training killer whales is about the dreamer’s fantasy, and what the dreamer wants. It is not at all about what the whales might want or prefer, if they could have been given a choice to work at SeaWorld or live a normal killer whale life in the wild.
By the way, the photo above is from Kelsey, who has found a different and beautiful way to engage her love of working with whales.
Here’s another comment in a similar vein, from Jennifer Jackson:
I once wanted to be a trainer and was probably one of the happiest people when San Antonio got SW… I wanted to go everyday and eventually move there for work. Later I met a friend who trained dolphins in Hawaii and she showed me video of the dolphin she trained and told me the story about his death, its so sad to me so I began to do a little more research on captivity. I had heard tons of arguments from both and I just couldn’t make up my mind and eventually I kept researching but not the parks but the habitat of these sea animals and that was it I was convinced they did NOT belong in captivity!!
Now I just try and educate my friends on what I have learned and I am very proud to say I have convinced several people NOT to go to SW and it is one of the best feelings in the whole world
I just want to say Thank You to ALL who participate in helping educate others as to why these amazing creatures belong in the sea and only in the sea!! Love you all from the bottom of my heart ❤
I’d love to hear from more people who had a dream to work at SeaWorld and then changed their minds, including their reasons.
I’d also love to hear more from anyone who still aspires to be a trainer at SeaWorld, and would like to address Kelsey’s questions about whether love of killer whales can be consistent with wanting to work with them in captivity. I totally get why being a SeaWorld trainer would be thrilling and appealing from the human point of view. But I have a harder time understanding how aspiring trainers justify their dreams from the whales’ point of view. It’s an excellent conversation to have.