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Comment Highlights From The Debate Over Blackfish

April 12, 2013

The back and forth over criticism of Blackfish in this post is generating some great comments. I wanted to call out a few:

First, from former SeaWorld Jeffrey Ventre, who I mentioned in the post, and who features prominently in Blackfish:

Tim, thanks for writing this. Just for clarity, I worked directly with Tilikum (as opposed to just being around) especially when opening the stadium. In the a.m., a Sr Trainer is usually paired with one or more junior staff, and conducts morning sessions, including exercise, play, learning, relationships, husbandry and more. In 1994-95, i usually opened 1-2 days per week. This involved direct, hands on contact with Tilikum. During show situations, I was typically with a waterwork animal (Kat/Tai), thus would rarely work him in shows, but it did happen, from time to time. In regard to fame and fortune, I’m personally down (net loss) about ten thousand due to hotels, travel expenses, and lift tickets involved with places like Park City and Sarasota. In regard to speaking out, and as stated at the SFF Q&A, most of us got into this position by default. We did have an opinion, which we’ve shared. Had other current and former marine mammal trainers stepped up to the plate, there’d be plenty of “fame” to spread around. None of us have a history of activism. If any current or former trainers want to join our expanding group, please track us down at Voice of the Orcas.

Jeff was good enough to include this video that conveys some of how Blackfish was received at the Sarasota Film Festival:

Next, this thoughtful comment and perspective, from Dana:

I am by no means an ex- marine mammal trainer but I would like to share my story with you. I grew up and still live in Ohio about 45 minutes from what was the Ohio SeaWorld. I grew up at Shamu Stadium. When I was 17 I had been accepted as a student for a internship/career workshop (at this time the park was Six Flags). A week before I was to start my internship working at Dolphin Cove I received a phone call that I will never forget. “We must cancel your internship because the park will be closing down permanently. We are very sorry.” I didn’t let this setback stop me from my dream. I went to college at Kent State Univeristy and graduated in 2011 with a B.A. in Psychology. During my undergrad at Kent I was fortunate enough to become a professional dog trainer. I figured if I could not work at SeaWorld I may as well train animals somehow! Today I have 5 years of professional dog training experience and I am an AKC Evaluator for their Canine Good Citizen Program. I am currently working towards my CPDT (Certified Professional Dog Trainer) title. My 5 years of experience training dogs has also allowed me to gain valuable insight to the marine mammal industry. The past 5 years has allowed me to reflect on Dawn’s death, read the book “Death at Seaworld,” watch several whales die including a few of our past Ohio whales- (Sumar, Kalina), and allow me to form an opinion for myself. It took me a long time to come to my conclusions. I am very anxious to see the film “Blackfish.” In response to Robin and Future Orca Trainer : I am that person who has gone to college, spent thousands of dollars, earned a degree, and I have 5 years as a professional trainer under my belt so I could one day become a marine mammal trainer. I am not ashamed but rejoiced that I could find a career that I love. I may never train a killer whale but sure can train dogs! I can direct my passion to the animals that really need training. Thousands of dogs need help in shelters and dogs that are rescued from shelters often need training. If SeaWorld and their IPO continues to skyrocket as Blackfish becomes more public there are other career paths you may take that will fufill your dream. Jeffrey, thank you for being a voice for the orcas. If I can share my voice even as a professional dog trainer, I am happy to.

Plus, this honest comment from Lexie, who wants to be an orca trainer but is open to at least seeing and hearing what Blackfish has to say:

I like how in this article, it states that this movie shows how great and passionate Dawn Brancheau was with her job, I’m very glad this isn’t demeaning her in any way. I also like how it briefly explains who was interviewed in the movie, and their history with the SeaWorld Parks. The thing I do not like, however, in the “teaser”, they showed Katina and her trainers, and that gave me the vibe that every time a trainer enters the water with an orca, there is some sort of aggression shown, which isn’t true. They were performing a simple stunt and the clips they showed makes it look like the orca is going after the trainer. Nevertheless, I’m interested in seeing the movie. I am, indeed, a pro-cap, and I have a dream much like several others: I want to be an orca trainer, and unlike some of the other pro-captive people, I don’t resent the movie without even seeing it, and I’m interested to see what they have come up with. However, a movie isn’t going to change my mind about the career I want, nor are peoples’ comments. I’m really hoping other pro-captive people watch this movie as well, because it’s not a valid argument if you don’t understand both side, so we’ll see.

Finally, this wasn’t left as a comment, but it is a post on the blog of Jenna Costa Deedy (from an essay she wrote in 2011 for a Human Growth And Development Class), whose feelings about Blackfish got this useful discussion of Blackfish going. It helps explain where she is coming from, particularly with regard to former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove’s decision to speak out and participate in Blackfish:

John. J Hargrove is a killer whale trainer at SeaWorld San Antonio who I first met in August 2010 during a camp that I attended at the time. There, John shared with us his story of how he got started in working with killer whales before going on to share some stories about his experience working with these large marine mammals. He has been working with killer whales at SeaWorld parks in California and Texas, and Marine Land in France for the past eighteen years. His intellect and life story is a very interesting case of how one person’s passion for animals and the sea can sometimes result into a life-long career of working with them over a long period of time. John’s story is very unique because not only does it focuses on the life story of a boy from Orange, Texas who grew up to be one of the world’s most influential whale trainers, but also, a story about how he has grown to love and appreciate the animals he works with everyday.

Jenna’s whole post is worth reading, and her connection with Hargrove helped fuel her dream and determination to become an orca trainer. Which goes to show how complex and emotional the whole issue of orca captivity is.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2013 9:46 am

    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❤

  2. s. daltonic permalink
    April 12, 2013 10:06 am

    i wonder if people who are Pro-Cap and want to be Orca trainers are only Pro-Cap because THEY want to train Orcas, you know?
    Obviously, their love for the animal resonates, but if you truly love an animal that much, how could you want them to be kept in such difficult conditions that are so unnatural?
    i find it very peculiar.
    if you love something, don’t you want that something to be happy? genuinely happy, i mean? not happy in the sense that they are ALLOWED to play w/ a Pepsi can to take away one tiny bit of stress for a few moments?

    • Anne Mallin permalink
      October 25, 2013 2:50 am

      These are people unable to empathize. When you witness a person who enjoys very unnatural surroundings 24/7 for an animal in captivity, are they YOUR friends? We all stopped going to zoos 25 years ago, how do you NOT feel empathy ?

  3. April 12, 2013 10:49 am

    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.

    • Erin permalink
      April 12, 2013 3:47 pm


    • Anne Mallin permalink
      October 25, 2013 7:36 pm

      You have said this so eloquently. Thank you for career goal . I would love to see more students like you endorse natural habitats for Orcas. We have learned many things about Gray whales without the ability to enslave them.

  4. Derrick bottoms permalink
    April 12, 2013 11:47 pm

    One trainer in the film was included because he photographed well because Dean Gomersall never trained or worked with an orca in his life, unless sea lions and otters can be termed as orcas. Lol.

  5. April Clem permalink
    October 28, 2013 1:18 am

    Watching #blackfish has left me astonished that all the years the debate is just now being brought infront of people and all over the media. Tonight i personally have cried enough tears to gaine a severe headache. This show has opened my eyes and i myself will never return to any seaworld or take my family. I had no idea what was really going on with this company and to my stupidity never even questioned where these mammals even came from. I am literally heart broken they we as a species ourselves find it our place to separate these familys foe “our knowledge gain” in my oppion we are causing the world to be totally impacted negativitly out of jusr plain curiosity, our ancestors seem to live just fine not having knowledge of ever species alive! Unless the mammal effects your household living why does it matter to us how they thrive in the wild? This showed stated in wild they are no threat to us so we are we threading them????


  1. Captivity ‘turning orcas into killers’ – IOL SciTech | | My Blog

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