Blackfish Fallout: Debunking A Slander

Real life and real art.

It’s a classic PR technique. When you don’t like the message, and the facts are not on your side, distract and confuse the debate by attacking the messengers.

Since I first started reporting on Tilikum, SeaWorld and orcas in captivity, there have been efforts to delegitimize the former SeaWorld trainers who had the courage to step forward and talk openly about the reality at SeaWorld. They were disgruntled, they were fired, they weren’t experienced and knowledgeable, they were simply seeking 15 minutes of fame. Every possible charge was leveled against them in response to their criticisms of SeaWorld’s practices, in the hopes that the public would not listen to what they were saying about the lives of killer whales in captivity, which is, after all, the core issue. Here is an early rebuttal to those attacks.

Now a new and even more explosive charge has been thrown into the debate swirling around Blackfish, the documentary which has brought the issue of killer whale captivity before a global audience: that one of the trainers in the film was fired from SeaWorld for intentionally abusing an animal.

As far as I can tell, the charge was first aired at the recent International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association (IMATA) conference in Las Vegas (at a session critiquing Blackfish). The below, for example, comes from one account of the IMATA conference (love the session on penguin media training):

Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 12.39.34 PM

Abusing an animal is the worst charge that could be leveled against anyone who cares about animals, and since that casual and sly slander has been happily bounced around on social media without much scrutiny, how about we look at the, you know, facts.

The accusation involves Dean Gomersall, who worked at SeaWorld from 1987 to 1994. In 1994 Gomersall was working at the Sea Lion and Otter Stadium (after running the Whale and Dolphin stadium). One day he was doing a training session with two small-clawed river otters, called Trixie and Bubba. The session involved sending the two otters to a target, and then calling one to the exit gate (the other was supposed to remain on the target). No big deal, except Trixie was in heat. Gomersall could call Bubba to the gate without any problem, while Trixie remained in the enclosure, on the target. But if he called Trixie to the gate, Bubba would not stay on the target, and would not let her go. With the session going poorly, Gomersall took a break, and left to go work with some other animals. Before he did, he slid down the plastic slider on the exit gate, which was used to keep the otters from messing with any other otters on the other side of the gate.

Gomersall, back in the day.

Fifteen minutes later he returned, opened the gate, and saw blood all over the floor of the enclosure. As best Gomersall could figure, Bubba must have stuck his nose under the gate as Gomersall was dropping the slider down, and the slider cut Bubba’s nose (Gomersall hadn’t noticed anything because you can’t see through the slider). He immediately called for help and Bubba was treated. The next day, Gomersall was called in by management and told he was being fired for injuring an animal and waiting 15 minutes before telling anyone.

Gomersall says he was not surprised when management twisted the facts (accusing him of knowing the otter was injured and waiting before telling anyone; “Why would I do that?” Gomersall says) to create a firing offense. He knew he was already under scrutiny because had been complaining persistently about the misuse and living conditions of a Pacific Walrus called Garfield, a troubled (and potentially dangerous) animal who would cooperate with almost no one other than Gomersall, and as a result was treated harshly. In addition, Gomersall had refused a request to work at Shamu Stadium, because he had become uncomfortable with the idea of killer whale captivity and did not want to work with captive killer whales.

After being fired, Gomersall was escorted out of SeaWord’s Orlando park by Robin Friday, who had a long and successful career as a trainer and manager with SeaWorld. He knew something was off. “Dean you are getting really screwed here,” he said, according to Gomersall. “I don’t know what the hell happened. But if I ever go somewhere else I would hire you in a heartbeat.”

Gomersall was angry at the way in which SeaWorld had misconstrued what happened to drum up a firing charge. But when he looks back now he is glad that SeaWorld forced him to walk a different path. “It ended up being the greatest day in my life because it changed the way I think about everything,” he says. “Lots of trainers walk away on their own. I wish i had done that.”

Since SeaWorld Gomersall has gone on to work in marine mammal rescue in southern California. Does that sort of commitment to helping animals seem consistent with the charge of animal abuser?  

45 thoughts on “Blackfish Fallout: Debunking A Slander”

  1. SeaWorld keeps making themselves look worse and worse with this. What is going to happen if this documentary ends up getting nominated at the Oscars and gets a whole new wave of publicity? Are they going to send another letter out to Oscar voters like they did the film critics and tell them everything is misleading?

    1. I usually don’t pay attention to the documentary category at the Oscars (or Golden Globes), but I will this year.

      1. it’s too bad you guys watch 1x documentary and now you’re experts! I don’t agree with SeaWorld 100%, but here they are the lesser of 2x evils. If you ACTUALLY take some time to do a little research- read an article or 2x, check out a YouTube video (I’m not even asking you to crack a book!) you will see that Blackfish is a poor excuse of a documentary with very manipulated facts. If something was said or shown that didn’t agree with the premise of the movie, it was left out. Copy down the names of the movie’s “experts” and see if their professional titles match up with what they’re given in the film. The worst part is- NONE of the footage matches the narration! The scene of Sue describing how she “was thrown into a tank with a killer whale and made to do fantastic stuff having never met the whale before is in fact another trainer on a different whale. This trainer had been undergoing intense schooling and training for months before she was allowed to approach the whale! I am NOT a SeaWorld employee! Other than visiting the park a few times as a kid in San Diego, I have NOTHING to do with SeaWorld. I am simply another citizen who watched what I THOUGHT was a documentary and decided to look into it myself. Very disappointed in all these arm-chair saviors who got their degree in marine biology from the back of the Blackfish package! DON’T FOLLOW BLINDLY! DO YOUR RESEARCH! SeaWorld is NOT 100% in all their practices, but Blackfish is FAR from an “objective” documentary…

    1. I think we will always see isolated incidents of abuse. That Elephants or any animals are still allowed kept in a jail zoo is beyond my imagination.
      I believe if international travel was *required* to see Lions, Tigers, Elephants, etc. a couple of generations ago, Africa would not have the poverty we see there. It is a HUGE industry.
      Why has America and Europe taken Africa’s heritage and source of economic sustainability?
      It’s all connected.
      Truth: Internet web cams enable us to observe all animals all over the planet, under the water, in the wild.

      There is NO reason to keep wild animals in cages period.

  2. I am just appalled by this. I worked concessions at Sea World of Ohio during summers in high school (1980-1982). I really felt the Orcas were treated exceptionally well because they were the stars (and brand) of the park. I was at the bottom of the employee food chain and the trainers were at the top. The trainers were the ones who had advanced degrees, were carefully chosen, and who genuinely loved the animals. The human interaction was professional! Looking back, I can honestly say that the problems stemmed from overuse of animals coupled with deteriorating living conditions. This was especially true in Ohio where the animals were shipped from Orlando or SanDiego for the summer. The former trainers are not trying to bring Sea World down. This is an ignorant PR move. They will not be able to attract competent professional trainers who put the health and welfare of the animals first!

    1. Hey, ya gotta have respect for their EDUCATED jailers………it’s a slow death. I don’t call that “LOVE” .

      1. PJ…yes I know we try hard to believe they (trainers)see the Orca’s hell and yet they say they still “love” them.
        I am referring instead to one’s ability to “empathize, then affect change” , as an advocate.
        The argument made from lesser to greater is if citizens in society observe child abuse , or know of abuse, we have 24 hours to report that abuse. It is law.
        Why are these Orca’s , who have no laws established to advocate except maybe PETA (private foundation) allowed to make money for Sea World ?
        Abusing a dog, cat or elephant to make money for the circus would be an outrage and against the law.
        The lawmakers are not informed on what HELL captivity is for animals, yet.
        So should we place every government politician and Judge in a small cage for a year to see if they GAIN the ability to “empathize”?
        I do not ever think that will happen. You must be selfless to affect changes.
        Get petitions signed. There must be a few student attorneys somewhere in the US who still know the emotion of empathy.
        Thanks for caring!

      2. Anna, some folks here in San Diego are asking the mayoral candidates about their views on the captivity of Orcas at SW. No candidate has answered the question.

    2. How could they possibly be happy they are in a small container too small for them to barely move and you call that exceptionally well? maybe you would like to try living in a box with no room to barely turn around and better yet away from your entire family yeah thats exceptional alright ..NOT

      1. Sea World boasts that their 7 million tank complex is the biggest in the world when in fact it is second with Frances’ marine land Antibes being the largest at 11 million gallons.

        However after doing the math, their 7 million gallons, where it a single tank which it is not, would barely meet the AWA guidelines for a tank for single Orca the size of Tilikum. Since it is not a single tank and Sea World has 6 Orcas in that volume of water, that is six violations of federal law and the AWA requirements. This has been going on for DECADES and nothing has been done about it.

        This is ‘quality care of captive animals’? Please….

  3. Behavior like this is typical. We’ve seen it with the horrors at Marineland in Canada and any other number of companies where employees come forward about abuses or lawbreaking.

    I have to say that the irony of Seaworld accusing an employee of animal abuse would almost be laughable if I didn’t already know the horrors those animals endure from the moment they’re captured for and behalf of their new slavemasters.

    1. Raise quiet hell…… and be the Orca’s “”advocate””.
      Whoever lives near a Sea World, get a petition signed at your local neighborhoods. First ask people to watch the film. go back the next week and ask them to sign the petition.
      People will love you for it !

  4. In 1980, Sea World San Diego had four Orcas that were in their pubic access petting pool. I got to know them very well over the years time that I interacted closely with them where thousands of park visitors interacted with them as well and NO ONE was ever hurt by them. The four of them, Kasatka, Katina, Kotar and Canuck II were rotated into the tank in pairs and were happy and friendly towards people who had trust and respect for them which is NOT by ‘teasing’ them with a fish trying to touch them.

    Now, after over three decades of operant behavior training and food deprivation to coerce their behavior in shows, and playing “Musical Whales” moving them around from park to park to park, the two left alive, Kastka and Katina are now considered “problem animals” by Sea World and two of their “specially trained staff who works with Orcas” have been killed and others have been severely injured..

    I think this speaks volumes about their “world class animal care” and it doesn’t look so great in light of historical events.

  5. The best thing we can do is ask everybody you can , “Hey, did you watch that documentary on CNN “Blackfish”?
    I’ve been hearing people say, “No, I haven’t seen it yet but I have heard people say it’s great!”
    Keep the conversation alive every day ……maybe our enthusiasm will rally support to release all dolphins and whales in captivity.

  6. I suppose this is like Sea World’s initial claim about what happened to Dawn- that it was her fault. They lied to the public to cover up and save their butt. What they didn’t take in to account are all the witnesses there as it happened- people who could tell the true account of what really happened.
    Sea World you are just like Obama- you point the blame at every person you can. Step up- take responsibility & accountability for your actions!!! Have some respect to your previous trainers & to the public.
    Let these creatures free!!!!

  7. This is a great start, Nadomom….I had something like this happen in VA in 1989-1992. We got every County have a concerned citizen, a representative ,volunteer, to have our Board of Supervisors “formally” oppose “it”.
    First we held tiny meetings every week (3), bring the kids etc. .. I made it fun and informative.

    Then, after we only had about 200 signatures and informed the citizens who were property owners, what effects this would have on their property we gained full support. People were outraged and called and went to the Board of Supervisors meeting ONCE.
    Guess what? Even though we were a minority, big businessmen were convinced this was bad press, and they could do better…..They “formally” opposed and we took that to the State Corporation Commission hearing (just one meeting).
    At this hearing there were about 180 people but our pro bono lawyers had 2 great convincing statistics, and an “alternate” plan.
    Basically, government will make it easier for you the more you do the footwork for them. People want to “justify” their jobs…especially now! lol….
    That day made them realize the future situation, energy conservation. However, lowering property values and doubling the rate of childhood cancer was NOT the way to go.
    The plan I would go for in cities (who have a Sea World) to embarrass the ” Is this what you want our city to be known for? REALLY? ”
    Then I would get little kids involved by telling them the truth. Not with words, but with pictures, a short film. A picture is worth a thousand words, right?
    You have to show people : “How Orcas live naturally” vs. “This is what SeaWorld does” type of a thing.
    Be very organized, unemotional, and heartlessly cold about how you will NOT accept their cruelty. {“You should know better than this… “} {“People come to our city and you ACCEPT and ENDORSE this CRUELTY”?} Offer to show them your Youtube video you’re showing the little children.
    An informed public is your very best friend. Most people want to do something and there is strength in numbers. There is actually very little you will need to do except use the method of persuasion via information and look for positive feedback. Those families, individuals will be your better allies.
    Give your officials time to “wake up” and find alternate ways they can bring in a view of Nature. Let Sea World do a huge “Theatre Room” in honor of the Orcas they release back into the wild.
    Give them ideas to put a device on the Orcas to trace their new found freedom!
    Firstly, it will be embarrassing for them to turn around. So understand that will be shameful to them, swallowing their pride, type of thing.
    Don’t kick a dog when they are down. Instead, praise them for their change in attitude. You get more bees with honey. You become now the “Trainer” to the officials, right?
    With webcams all over the world, underwater….there’s no need for this captivity.
    Go to your local Science museum. Do they make you board a space shuttle to see outer space? Do you need to board a submarine to experience living under the sea? There a films they show!
    You can do this, yes you absolutely can do this! The world is on your side.
    God bless you in this endeavor 🙂

  8. I don’t spend time following these types of blog exchanges or for that matter, any blogs on any topic; however, when your statement from Dean was posted, associates from all over the world notifying me that I was quoted on your blog. First, this is not my quote. I consider Dean, as I have considered everyone I’ve worked within the zoological community, a co-worker and equally so, a friend.

    Attempting to recall what may or may not have been said 20 years ago is not a simple task for anyone, especially at my age. Nonetheless, at best my comments would have been limited to “it’s an unfortunate situation,” based on the simple fact that Dean did admit that he kicked the otter when interviewed by senior Animal Training management. Hence, why in the world would I or anyone make such a statement as penned in this blog? (Which seeks merely to elevate an issue for personal, business and retribution objectives?)

  9. I’m not going to be nearly as kind as Robin. Once again Mr. Zimmerman, your work is far from “investigative.” First, nary a single curse word ever leaves Robin’s mouth. In fact, he is so soft spoken even the word “screwed” is not in his vocabulary. Anyone that knows Robin knows without explanation that Dean’s claim here is false.

    There were two eye-witnesses present when Dean kicked the otter for refusing to separate. I believe the otter’s name was Trixie. Further, Dean himself admitted to kicking her stating that he was tired and frustrated. Management did not want to fire Dean, who had a good track record at SeaWorld, but Human Resource policy mandated his dismissal. Any form of animal abuse, no questions asked, was grounds for immediate termination. Further, Dean was never “requested” to go to Shamu Stadium. No one was ever requested. You were moved to any stadium or animal area where management saw fit to place you. Dean’s insistence that he declined to go to Shamu because he was “uncomfortable” is nothing shy of rubbish.

    You would do yourself a great service if you put actual investigation behind the claims of the same small band of ex-trainers, each with their own personal axe to grind. You continually call to question profoundly important social topics based on the hearsay of vindictive persons, themselves with scant few years experience to even accurately represent the assertions made here and in Blackfish. Some day your agenda-driven lack of investigation is going to catch up with you.

    1. Mark & Robin,

      Surely, Seaworld should have Dean’s human resource file that can be pulled and released to prove that he kicked the otter, or perhaps video evidence? Also, if he truly abused an animal, why would that not be mentioned to his other employers after him being let go at Seaworld when they called you all for a professional reference before getting hired at other marine parks? Just seems fishy to me, sorry.

      On another note, thank you for commenting and I hope you/Seaworld keep up the debate. I hope that further debate and communication can lead to a solution in everyone’s best interest, especially the orcas. My personal opinion, I grew up loving Seaworld and wanting to be a “killer whale” trainer and have brought my young child to Seaworld, however I want change. I would like all of the “original captured from their pods” orcas to be released to a seapen with the help of Seaworld and their trainers and help them get re-introduced to their pods and natural habitat. You can keep the ones that were born at your parks and please stop the breeding program. Seaworld would still come out on top and would be the hero in the public’s opinion. You can start with Morgan, it’s not too late 🙂

      1. Not going to happen. And frankly, I’m starting to think that if this twitter boycott does succeed, Seaworld’s just going to sell their orcas to the other parks around the world, where cultural differences means a public campaign by North Americans to free overseas orcas is going to be viewed as a joke.

  10. Interesting that all of this simply shifts the focus from the issue at hand. I worked at the Seal and Otter stadium for several years with Dean. We watched as Shamu stadium would receive a set overhaul to the tune of 1 million dollars, but walruses swam in pools exposed to the public, and required surgery to remove paint chips and pacifiers from their stomachs. TOne walrus, Buk-Buk, had at least two surgeries, and sat in a “sunporch” -a 20 x 20 covered cement room for months while she healed from the surgery. Watching her sit, and suck her flipper for days on end was heartbreaking. Anyone seeing this knows this is wrong, period. Repainting and covering the exhibit with a screen could have prevented this. It couldn’t have cost more than $50,000. Unfortunatley Seaworld’s priority was making money! I returned to Seaworld approximately ten years later, a saw Garfield, alone in a dark pool with bars and no socialization. It reminded me of something from a Hannibal Lechter movie. Obviously Garfield is dangerous, he’s a bull male walrus! Looking at this beautiful guy that I had worked many years before, broke my heart. Any trainer, animal lover, whatever, knows that this was wrong!

  11. I meant to add that I ocassionally worked with Robin when he was a supervisor in animal care, Mark’s comment that he is a good person is correct, he always struck me as a quiet, even-tempered, genuine person, who genuinely cares for and about animals! I worked with Jeff Ventre when he first started at Seaworld-another good person! I have friends that still work there, and I understand and share their passion for the animals in their care-Nobody I worked with would intentionally harm an animal-I worked shoulder to shoulder with Dean- I can’t imagine him intentionally harming an animal. The only time I ever saw any aggression toward any animal by any trainer was in self defense and the appropriate level of force necessary to save the trainers life- by disrupting the attack. I never saw any damage done to an animal unless it was due to corporate neglect, unwillingness to repair or replace worn out pools and stadiums. The question is simple: Are these animals suffering psychologically/emotionally from being held in captivity? Some of the self soothing and also self-mutilation I have witnessed appears to be neurotic in nature, similar to “pacing the cage” which is common in zoos. Put yourself in any of these animals situations for one or two days, think about how you would feel, and you get your answer.

  12. “Kristy
    Mark & Robin,
    Surely, Seaworld should have Dean’s human resource file that can be pulled and released to prove that he kicked the otter, or perhaps video evidence? Also, if he truly abused an animal, why would that not be mentioned to his other employers after him being let go at Seaworld when they called you all for a professional reference before getting hired at other marine parks? Just seems fishy to me, sorry”

    I’d like to second that comment. Dean continues to work in the animal care field to this day and I can’t imagine anyone – especially a rescue group – hiring someone who had abused an animal. Are you saying not one of the places Dean has worked for since leaving SeaWorld contacted them for a reference?

    I’m not simply siding with Dean because I’m in the anti captivity community and I don’t want to believe the bad guys, I’m siding with him because the just story doesn’t ring true and I’ll continue to do so until the day SeaWorld provide actual proof other than making random remarks during industry only conferences.

      1. Jen, There’s only so much to be said on the subject unless SeaWorld wants to disclose the Investigative Review file from Dean’s dismissal (and I doubt it). Look, I don’t have an axe to grind with Dean, he’s the one that put this out there. It just so happens that Robin was the Director of the Department at the time with his office located at the SL Stadium. Robin along with one other manager conducted Dean’s investigative review. Robin was there when Dean admitted kicking the otter out of frustration. I don’t know what more to offer you than that. Robin only posted because he was quoted as saying something he never said (and doesn’t even talk that way to begin with). As I think I stated elsewhere, Dean had a good track-record, management didn’t want to fire him, they had no choice. This is why recommendations were upheld. This is a dead-end issue. I guess it’s just one man’s word against another. I’ll place my wager on Robin’s integrity 8 days a week.

  13. Mark @

    I just can’t understand why SW didn’t say anything about this in the many interview they’ve done since Blackfish was released and instead only mention it during a highly secretive and influential industry only event. I can’t wrap my head around why they would do that other than it being an attempt to discredit Blackfish to the trainers and other marine park staff at IMATA.

    However, I appreciate your response. I’m not questioning yours or Mr Fridays integrity and I have no wish to get into a debate about this either. I’m just saying I’ll need more proof than two fellows from the industry’s say so. I’m sure you’ll understand. Past dealings with SeaWorld PR has made us all highly suspicious of their motivations.

    1. Jen, IMATA is not industry only, nor is it secretive. Anyone can attend, it just costs more for non-members. I’m oblivious to the source of this original discrediting of Dean. I suppose it has more to do with the individual that said it than the organization. As much as it may appear that SeaWorld controls what their staff says, they don’t suppress their opinions outside of work. By the way, I haven’t worked at SW since 1996 – only 10 of my 27 years was SW…so I don’t see how SW PR suspicions apply to myself or Robin. The moral of this story is: if you’re going to quote someone, you better make sure the story is accurate. With that I’ll say goodnight.

  14. Jen-Standard operating procedure for most HR departments these days is to confirm dates of employment only. Reccomendations or reasons for termination can expose companies to lawsuits. About the only question that can be asked is “Would you re-hire?”.

    In reference to whether Dean did or did not kick an otter- people don’t understand how much patience is involved in animal training. It is easy to become frustrated with the animal that isn’t doing what you want. Combine this with the pressures of 6-10 shows a day, plus training sessions for 30+ animals and stress is inevitable!

    There is a difference between an impulsive angry reaction, and intentional abuse. I wasn’t there but it’s obvious something happened. Knowing Dean, I doubt it was an intentional act of cruelty.

    All of this shouldn’t cloud the issues that Blackfish brought forward. Is Marine Mammal Training dangerous? Obviously. Does the way these animals are separated from their pods, captured and put on a deprivation schedule affect their psychological well-being? No doubt. Does it turn them into killers? Who can say? Check into the “ratopolis effect” and see if it applies. Abherent behavior is rampant in prisons, does it occur on a smaller scale at Seaworld?

    Does Seaworld have an effective marketing department?-Definitely!!

    It is interesting to note that although Mark states:
    “As much as it may appear that SeaWorld controls what their staff says, they don’t suppress their opinions outside of work”

    This may be true now, but when I worked at Seaworld it was made clear that if you spoke to anyone outside of work (about Seaworld-as a trainer) you were representing Seaworld and better be careful in what you say.It didn’t have to be said that you could lose your dream job and there were 100 applicants waiting to fill your position! Speaking to the press without authorization was a no-no! That’s why Seaworld has a handful of curators and PR Spokesman doing the interviews.

    There is a long list of “buzzwords” that are forbidden. Animals are not housed in “tanks”, they are called “pools”. “Captivity” is never used, instead, “a controlled environment” describes the animals captivity. “Frozen fish” are a “restaurant quality diet”. The list is long, and purposeful, to paint a softer picture for the tourist.

    While I worked at Seaworld, animals didn’t die, they “went to Ohio” (meaning they were shipped to our Ohio park). These are all examples of Seaworld sugar coating or hiding the facts. The main reason people keep secrets is simple, they know they are doing something wrong!

    The focus of Blackfish is on killer whales. I would like the truth of how Seaworld obtains other cetaceans and pinnipeds to be brought forward. How about Point Defiance Zoo? Few know the process involved in “rescuing” baby walruses and funneling them through this zoo.
    How about the Russian connection involving beluga trafficking to the Georgia Aquarium? Anybody care to talk about the Japanese connection to Seaworld?

    When I worked at Seaworld, this was all hush-hush, most trainers had no idea of how complicit their company was, and still is, in the sale of marine mammals, dead and alive. We were told, and believed that these animals were “rescued”. This was a true statement, however if I pay big money for a live animal while others are being slaughtered, am I complicit in the slaughter of the other animals not deemed “show quality”?

    Sorry for the rambling diatribe, I am not a disgruntled ex-Seaworld trainer, nor am I a bed wetting tree hugger. I feel that if something I say or do helps to end one animals needless suffering, it is worth my time and effort. People should know when they pay the admission price, what exactly they are paying for!

    1. Thank you for your reply.

      Would you mind expanding on your comment about SeaWorld / Point Defiance zoo and the walrus trade? I’m very interested in that.

      Thank you.

  15. This article is from Mother Jones Oct. 98:

    In Alaska, indigenous groups permitted by the government to hunt the federally protected walrus for their own subsistence have attracted a surprising scavenger: zoos — which go on the hunts in order to “save” orphaned animals. But critics worry that the zoos end up actually choreographing the hunts.

    A publication of the Cincinnati Zoo once recounted how “three little orphaned walrus pups were rescued.” What it didn’t explain was how the zoo paid Native Alaskans $25,000 for expenses and to go along with them on a May 1996 “rescue” expedition. The hunters killed four female walruses with pups. Three pups were retrieved for the zoo and a fourth was killed after zoo employees said it was the wrong sex.
    This made the Cincinnati Zoo one of four U.S. organizations, with the Indianapolis Zoo, Marine World, and the New York Aquarium, to collect orphaned walrus pups under permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. FWS allows only incidentally orphaned pups to be captured during the hunts.

    But the Native Alaskan who led the zoo’s excursion, Clarence Waghiyi, said in March that he knew the zoo wanted a male and two females, that he and other hunters deliberately targeted female walruses with pups (under its permit, the zoo could collect up to three females but only one male, so a second captured male pup was killed for food), and that it was not a normal subsistence hunt, but an expedition paid for by the zoo. He then recanted these points in a faxed memo, after a zoo manager learned he had spoken with a reporter. Meanwhile, the zoo insists that female walruses with pups were not targeted, and that the zoo had not directed the Native Alaskans’ activities.

    But Caleb Pungowiyi of the Eskimo Walrus Commission, which represents Native hunting villages and which has worked with the Cincinnati Zoo, says Natives focus on getting what the organizations want — and most often that means intentionally killing female walruses with pups. “Waiting for a legitimate orphan, I think, would be time-consuming,” he says. FWS officials say its regulators have not seen any evidence to suggest that their permits are being violated. But at press time, the Humane Society of the United States was preparing a letter of protest to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and a request to the FWS that it ban zoos from collecting orphans from subsistence hunts. “I would argue that if you weren’t offering any monetary compensation, [the hunters] wouldn’t do it for you,” says Naomi Rose, a Humane Society scientist. “The minute money’s involved, who’s kidding who?”


    This is very similar to how marine life parks operate during Japanese dolphin hunts. They will pay big money to take “the pick of the litter”.

    1. I see you have done good work in your research, -k .
      If the government is designating a “Non-profit” , 501(c)3 status, to those organizations capturing wild animals an Association, Foundation Charity status that is unlawful, illegal.
      Those who capture FOR a zoo —- the ‘hunters’ or those they hire, their money they pay the indigenous peoples and/or anyone else are not legally allowed to be paid.
      The act of forcefully removing a perfectly content,wild animal without proof they were near death is the EXACT opposite of any “Non-profit’s purpose. Even if near death, a wild animal has to be returned as soon as possible.
      Who is the Director of this Zoo? Is it owned by the city or a non-profit? Who are the Board members? This information is available with the Secretary of State in the state they are filed with. What state is it filed under?
      You can look at “GuideStar” , they keep a record of business dealings, grants, funding, Board members….etc.
      Look at National, Federal non-profits, too. Follow the paperwork, and expect some things to be hidden or secretive. It is the nature of the Beast…..
      Because a non-profit status has to be for the purpose of a social welfare, animal welfare. It cannot be payment for capture.
      Even our government (U.S.) cannot do this for research purposes.

      We need to file for an investigation into allegations of misuse of funds. They will try to hide where and who the money went to. This is a simple case of “Fraud” done by another “non-profit”…….
      Some Non-profits are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  16. This from the Washington Fish and Wildlife website:

    The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), enacted in 1972, was the first legislation that called for an ecosystem approach to natural resource management and conservation. The MMPA prohibits the take (i.e., hunting, killing, capture, and /or harassment) of marine mammals and enacts a moratorium on the import, export, and sale of marine mammal parts and products. There are exemptions and exceptions to the prohibitions. For example, Alaska Natives may hunt marine mammals for subsistence purposes and may possess, transport, and sell marine mammal parts and products. An exception is available for entities that apply for and are granted authorization for the incidental take of marine mammals during the course of an otherwise legal activity. Permits may be issued for scientific research, public display, and import/export of marine mammal parts and products upon determination by the Service that the issuance is consistent with the MMPA and our regulations. Application for these permits are reviewed and issued by the Service’s Division of Management Authority, which is part of the International Affairs office. Please see for more information.

    1. k-,
      So, as an “exception” …. Alaskan Indian tribes
      may still be allowed to take marine animals for “subsistence” or to sell and transport? Wow.

      Really? Even now that Alaska has grocery stores and even food banks?

      I guess we really need to see if those 1972 standards / laws are relevant today in 2013.
      Question everything you see/hear that does not seem normal.

      Just because many generations ago the government slaughtered and killed their people, which was HORRIBLE, now we are *still* giving them a “business advantage” to enslave the dolphins and whales that originally belonged to THEM? Orcas first ‘belonged’ to Northwest tribes. Seems illogical.

      As far as I know, all Indian tribes are exempt from many taxes and they own the gambling casinos so they will have an income to help them. { America’s GUILT } Look to see how the U.S. continually gives preferred status, which is just. ( loans, grants, withholding taxes, shares, transportation grants, etc.)
      However, I do not think these wonderful and peaceful people would be willing to do this for less money than they can get in Federal subsidies. Are there just a few who do this and do they want to be exposed?
      That would be very shocking if their tribal council knew of their role they are playing to enslave Orcas/Dolphins.
      You know what? Go ahead and write a letter to tribes in the N.W. and ask if they have been approached by any entity to do that. When was the last time they were even known for doing that?
      Do they want to be known for enslaving the innocent, and asked to “look the other way” or “play like you are dumb”?
      I doubt an Indian Tribe would allow any of their own to play any role in that.
      I just attended a conference of a local N.W. tribe. They speak about their ancient custom to take care of their elders and all members of their community. Their appreciation of the way things should stay natural is contrary to that description of ‘capturing to sell’ …Even to a middleman for a “Marine park”.
      Engaging in that, it seems would make them look like Barbarians, an image they find distasteful.
      Really? Gosh…… hmmmm.

      What a twist of fate that would be…….

  17. Since sea otters are my favorite animal, I’ve been to Shedd & GA Aquarium to see them. After seeing Blackfish, I now wonder if animals are treated better at those places. Is there any way to find out? I don’t want to give a place my money if animals are mistreated!

    1. Jessikah,
      Just beginning to find your passion about these victims is really at the heart of the matter.

      You can use your time best by gathering supporters in any area near a SeaWorld or starting online petitions to change our standards for “conservation.” They must be sent in with a request for a hearing so that people can have a voice in these matters to change laws.

      You can find out what the current laws are from Greenpeace or several other animal rights organizations. All government agencies are scrambling to justify their salaries in their particular field of expertise.
      As the government is and will be cutting back on unnecessary jobs, now is a good time to engage the ones who will be seen as having a very “necessary” position to uphold. We spend billions taking care of the families of people seeking asylum here. The Military, NASA have wasted billions for UNnecessary things to justify us as a “super power”. To what end? Now we are broke and owe China money we’ll never pay back without changing our spending habits. This is a loving gesture to free these creatures.
      Russia or China is not known for their compassion… The U.S. is though.

      Expect those who have a job or title associated with the “chain of capture” to evade, avoid or misinform us. We can work best with U.S. legislation, but the squeaky wheels get the grease, even though they may be the minority.
      Think positive 🙂

  18. “When you don’t like the message, and the facts are not on your side, distract and confuse the debate by attacking the messengers.”

    Sounds the the typical tactics utilized by Animal “Rights” propagandists liek yourself.

    Y’know, when you sociopaths aren’t busy planting bombs, threatening to murder the children of scientific researchers and burning down research facilities.

  19. Just stop it already, Blackfish. You're tricking people into thinking you're true. says:

    Guys, get over yourselves. Those Orcas have it better than most human beings. I’ve worked in the animal industry for years and every day I am jealous of the clean, healthy, pampered environment that my animals live in (though I don’t, and never have worked at Sea World). Sea World has a reputation for being one of the best facilities out there. And yeah, Sea World makes money off those whales… why? Oh yeah, so that they can take care of them… and take care of them well. So… if they make money off those whales, WHY would they mistreat them? Honestly guys. You think you can think and feel for the animals, but the bottom line is that you can’t. I’ve worked with several bottlenose dolphins before, some that were rescued from the wild. By looking at their amazing heath, longevity, and energy, I 100% believe that those animals are “happy” (those quotes are there only because it is not scientifically possible to say an animal is happy) living under human care… I’d even go as far to say they would prefer it. Who wouldn’t? An animal’s instinct is to find the safest available area and the easiest way to acquire food. Living under human care gives them that, plus plenty of exercise, social interaction, and play time. If you had the opportunity to have someone else, every day, clean your house, make you good and nutritionally balanced food, and make sure you’re exercised, wouldn’t you take it? What if they also told you that you’d never have to go to work again? And that instead, all your free time would be play time? I’d take it. And think about it… that’s how the Orcas have it, too.

  20. Wow another cow for SeaWorld! How is it you think they get their exercise exactly? their tanks are too small and they need to be able to swim 100’s of miles a day and that doesn’t mean in circles!! It’s people like you is the reason for captivity and if it weren’t for YOU and places like SEAWORLD the slaughtering on innocent whales and dolphins wouldn’t be taking place as much as it is now research Taiji Japan they pick the pretty ones and slaughter the rest for their mercury laced meat need to study up on these mammals and your FACTS cause you are WRONG ! you talk of Blackfish making people believe it’s true what about you because your believing all of the lies SeaWorld is telling!!! They are KNOWN hunters so they are happy HUNTING for their food and as for being able to tell if they are happy of course you can ..they are not happy they act and look depressed and who wouldn’t they be depresed?? Have you ever saw an Orca or dolphin in the wild?? if you ever have then you can see they obviously aren’t happyin a small tank..they have collapsed dorsel fins which doesn’t happen in the WILD..there is a lot you could learn if you would wise up and educate yourself instead of spouting off what SeaWorld says.. however, SeaWorld could redeem themselves if they would do for the whales and dolphins what they do for the manatee and turtles.. rehabilitate and RELEASE!!!! NOT CAPTURE AND KEEP TO MAKE MONEY ALL IN THE NAME OF GREED!!!!!

    1. Wow, just… wow. A few things:

      1. Orcas travel only because they have to find food (although its not “100’s of miles a day”). Humans are capable of traveling several miles a day, but we don’t. Why? Because we just go to the store for food. The Orcas at Sea World have their food provided to them. And while there are transient pods that move around, there are also resident pods. And they don’t do much traveling at all. Why? Oh yeah, because they live were a food source is present.

      2. The Taiji dolphin killings are awful, I’ll agree with you there. But! The US (which includes facilities like Sea World) DOES NOT have ANY dolphins from Taiji! In fact, the US VOLUNTARILY stopped collecting dolphins from the wild in the 1980’s. The only new dolphins you’ll see in facilities now are ones that have been rescued. The last cetacean that came from Japan to the US was in 1982…or 1983, not sure, but he was a rescue as well, and he did NOT come from Taiji. Not supporting US aquariums does NOTHING to Taiji… all it’s going to hurt are the animals under human care in the US. The dolphin slaughters there have been going on for about hundreds of years, lonnnnng before dolphins were ever kept in aquariums. Additionally, the money the fishermen make off the dolphin meat is far greater than what they make off selling them to aquariums (usually in asia or the middle east). Lastly, the main reason for the dolphin killings, and this was documented by Jacques Cousteau a few decades ago, is because of competition… the fishermen kill the dolphins because they feel that they are competition for them. So, the main reason for Taiji? Cultural reasons…….. NOT selling them to aquariums.

      3. Yeah, all animals hunt for their food…. until they find an easier way to get it. Look at Raccoons or Pigeons! You do realize that there are documented cases of wild cetaceans that have stopped hunting and have started begging for food from boats, right? Why do they do that? Because it’s easier.

      4. Have YOU ever worked with exotic animals under human care? I’m going to guess at no… so stop trying to be an expert at reading animal behavior. You are looking at a world that you honestly have no clue about, and you’re making the wrong assumptions about it. Also, when people look at an animal and go “oh my gosh, it looks so ‘sad'”… usually, in my experience, that animal is just sleeping.

      5. I have seen plenty of wild dolphins. I’ve even worked to rehab and release them. And the one’s that don’t get released because of health issues? I think they’re doing just fine in their new homes.

      6. Yes, the dorsal fin falling over DOES happen in the wild. I’m sorry, but do you really think their fin falls over because they’re sad? Your ears and an Orca’s dorsal fin are made up of the same stuff…. Cartilage. Do your ears flop over when you’re sad? Have you noticed, too, that most of the Orcas that have flopped over fins are males? And that their fins are 5-6 feet high? It’s no wonder that cartilage breaks down over time.

      7. It makes me sad that anytime someone supports Sea World, immediately they’re told something along the lines of “you’re just falling victim to what Sea World says!!”. All of what I have said is due to my OWN experience working with animals, and my OWN research outside of Sea World. Pretty much everything you wrote is word-for-word what animal rights activists want you to believe. It’s propaganda. Please, do your own research, and please look at sources that are not driven by an anti-capitivty purpose. If you still have your opinion when you’re done, fine. But don’t listen to the activists just because they made an emotionally gut-wrenching movie. (P.S. Did you know that most of the scenes in Blackfish were either of Orcas that they weren’t even talking about, or of Keiko, who has never lived at Sea World?)

      8. The Orcas at Sea World DO NOT belong out in the wild, for the same reason that your dog doesn’t. Most of those Orcas are second, third, etc. generation living under human care. They have no clue how to survive in the wild, and we as humans? We don’t know how to teach them properly, either. Sending them out into the wild is a death sentence. Do you remember what happened to Keiko? It’s something that a lot of activist like to forget when they talk about “freeing” the Orcas.

      Lastly, I would like to end with this. I am honestly very happy that you are passionate about these animals. But you should take that energy and put it towards a more worthwhile cause, like helping wild animals that need help and protection, not the ones that are already very well taken care of already.

  21. Captivity kills. Shut Seaworld down. Please support the international Empty the Tanks campaign today. Intelligent marine mammals do not belong in captivity. Blackfish has put this in the spotlight and I hope this brings about an end to captivity. That’s without the fact the Taiji dolphin slaughters are funded and driven by the captive industry. Its just wrong.

  22. The problem that much of society faces today is that they are all so busy, there’s not much time to seek evidence and facts about things they want to know more about. So, many times, they believe what they are told. Those who don’t have time to dig deeper into this issue will believe Seaworld because they ‘sound’ dinkum to the average laymen. However, the average laymen needs to get off their butt and consider this movie in all respects. The young male (Tilly) taken from his parents, leaving three to die in the nets. Using Tilly for artificial insemination; that’s 100% exploitation in a nutshell – it’s the mother of all examples of exploitation. Separating the mother and calf, leaving the mother to cry for hours, then the Seaworld representative telling the trainer, “What, you think he’s gonna’ miss his mommmy?” Then blaming Dawn for her own death, first saying it was her pony-tail – how the heck did that make her family feel? Seaworld, in my eyes, has done everything, everything, everything wrong – even lying to the public about how long Orcas live in the wild. Their error, or lie, or crime is SO blatant, it is really hard to work out why they have not been shut down. It’s like accepting an excuse from a rhino poacher, really, “Oh, but the money from this horn will feed my family.” It’s totally unacceptable what goes on at Seaworld. Totally. It started out as a malicious act for profit (stealing Orcas from the sea, ripping them from their families – they were not ‘rescued’) and it’s continued down these lines. Seaworld did not choose to defend themselves or comment once in the making of Blackfish – why? If the Orcas at Seaworld mean so much to them, why don’t they want the best for them? Why do they keep producing more? No one needs to see another Orca in a swimming pool, there is ZERO educational value in that. With half the planet wanting them shut down, with all consciously evolved human beings wanting them to shut down, why are they still open? Seaworld are animal cruelty criminals, withholding the truth, lying to the general public, and they couldn’t care less about their own – they are a stain on humanity. All I hope for is that the new law soon comes into place, and they will have to empty their tanks. Other than that, I hope they start to listen and discover that they have a heart and it’s not made of crumpled up dollar bills. The hearts of Orcas are not made of wads of cash – this is why Seaworld cannot connect to them. I am a qualified animal trainer. I studied through COAPE following the principles of Karen Pryor. To all trainers around the world; we know Orcas and dolphins are clever, like dogs, and they do want to please. Yes, they may enjoy the communication and interaction, but we know where they would rather be – you know where they would rather be. Please let them go, please shut Seaworld down forever.

  23. “It’s a classic PR technique. When you don’t like the message, and the facts are not on your side, distract and confuse the debate by attacking the messengers.”

    The irony is so thick you could choke on it.

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