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SeaWorld Waterwork Desensitization Training (New Video)

January 31, 2014

It’s no secret that it has been going on. But here are two quick vids, shot by an enthusiastic guest, showing Orkid working with a trainer in the med pool (which has a floor that can be raised).

Orkid, or course, made a particularly dramatic appearance in Blackfish:

Here’s one section of SeaWorld’s investigation into the incident which illustrates how hard it is for SeaWorld to maintain situational control all the time:

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 3.13.14 PM

Of course, Orkid is no slouch when it comes to doing what she feels like doing, and ignoring protocol, either. Here’s the rap sheet from her SeaWorld profile:

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 2.50.23 PM

The renewed waterwork desense training is a good reminder that, despite claiming record revenues in 2013, SeaWorld is still determined to bring waterwork back into the show. I’ve always thought it was a long shot, because I always figured it would be hard to get anyone, most of all OSHA, to agree that being in the water with fast-rising floors (or any other safety mechanisms SeaWorld could throw into the mix) would be as safe as simply staying out of the water.

Which is perhaps why SeaWorld’s best hope is winning the federal appeal it argued last November, which in essence argued–to put it into layman’s terms–that OSHA had no right to butt into SeaWorld’s business, and that in any case waterwork was so central to SeaWorld’s brand and business that asking for a ban was akin to asking the NFL to ban tackling. That decision should come down in coming months.

If it doesn’t go SeaWorld’s way I’m not sure what SeaWorld’s options are. Steamroll OSHA into accepting fast-rising floors with some power lobbying and Congressional pressure? Resume waterwork at the California and texas parks, which weren’t cited by OSHA? None of the alternatives seem very good.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2014 11:57 am

    I don’t find the concept of a fast-rising pool floor as a safety feature very convincing. Even beached, one of those animals could do a ton of damage to a person and what happens if the animal opts to pin the trainer beneath its body?

    Anyway, I think it’s interesting that SeaWorld is apparently trying to bring back waterwork despite OSHA’s concerns and “Blackfish” being in the cultural consciousness. All I can figure is the corporation is either far more arrogant than I previously believed or someone ran the numbers and realized that not doing waterwork would be more harmful to the brand then another fatality or serious injury. If it’s the latter then I doubt SeaWorld is in as good a position as they currently claim; that it’s the truth their brand is suffering for not having waterwork in the shows.

    Personally, if it’s the latter, I think they’re misreading the situation. They’re hoping to ride out this storm and that going back to business as usual will allow the friendly Shamu image to replace the current concern about the individual animals. But “Blackfish” is here to stay and if someone else is hurt or killed, it will only reinforce the argument that SeaWorld cannot make working with killer whales safe.

    I would hope that corporate leaders would be visionary enough to realize that the SeaWorld model is fast approaching obsolescence and that, as a leading marine park, the organization needs to be proactive in changing that model instead of trying to return to the past.

    • Pro Cap permalink
      March 7, 2014 12:02 pm

      A marine mammal will not be able to move as fast on land as in the water. Resuers will have an advantage in that they are designed for dry land.

      I spoke to a trainer in San Diego a while ago (his name was John) and he said the trainers really wanted to get back to waterwork.

      • Pac Orp permalink
        June 11, 2014 2:46 pm

        ….and to get killed.

      • Gigi permalink
        June 12, 2014 7:35 pm

        They may be slowed down but they can still do serious damage. These animals are taught to jump up on slide outs and do some tricks out of water. Haven’t you seen wild orcas slide onto the beach and snatch seals? You can still be crushed or wacked with a tail OR have a limb bit off on a rising floor.

  2. February 1, 2014 3:31 pm

    This is chilling to me as a dog trainer and dog training instructor.

    The theory of water desense is basically Pavlovian: pair a stimulus with a positive reinforcement enough times and the training subject will come to associate the stimulus with the same feelings the positive reinforcement evokes (happiness, contentment, etc) and will therefore continue to perform the same behaviour it performed after the stimulus. Ivan Pavlov, a fine scientist born either into the wrong time or the wrong place, more than proved that conditioning does work.

    The problem is not Pavlov, the problem is all the people who followed Pavlov, took Pavlov’s very precise findings and applied them to whatever the heck they pleased. It’s like someone noticing that taking aspirin relieves a headache and applies the same finding to treating brain cancer.

    Pavlov realised that conditioning was extremely context specific. He could reliably condition a dog to salivate in one single context in 138 trials. He also noted that changing one tiny detail about the context meant that the dog might not respond in the same way. For example, if the first 138 trials were done by a trainer wearing a blue shirt and then the trainer wore a white shirt before the previously conditioned stimulus, the dog would no longer display the conditioned response. For every tiny change of context, the dog had to be fully conditioned again.

    I can successfully condition a dog to whirl and take one step back towards the trainer by running through over 22,000 (twenty two thousand) repetitions. Just by the nature of life, there is enough variation in contexts from day to day that the dog’s response becomes generalised. The domesticated nature of dogs generally ensures that once the dog is moving towards the trainer, they will continue to move towards the trainer. But if the dog has something better to do? The dog will whirl, move a step towards the trainer then turn back around and continue the previous activity.

    The main difference between what I do with dogs and what Seaworld is doing with the orcas is that I have the intellectual honesty to fully disclose the potential shortcomings of what I do in training. I don’t delude myself that I am doing more than I am actually doing. So I don’t put dogs into situations where a failure in conditioning (either operant or Pavlovian) would endanger the dog’s life.

    It blows me away that SeaWorld is more willing to gamble with human lives than I am to gamble with canine lives.

  3. John Hargrove permalink
    February 2, 2014 12:23 am

    Important for people to know is that her rap sheet is EXTREMELY watered down and down played For example the 7/31/2002 was the Tamarie video where she would have died if it weren’t for Robbin’s fast thinking and the trainers hearing the screams of the public. Just watch the video.

    John Hargrove

  4. Curious permalink
    February 6, 2014 9:27 am


    Doesn’t Sea World “water down” all of the whales rapsheets? Am I correct in recalling that Tilikum’s rap sheet from killing Dawn says something like, “grabbed, towed trainer”?

  5. Debra permalink
    February 11, 2014 2:55 am

    I place these “trainers” in the same mindset of careless folks who feed on adrenaline and power. It’s only a matter of time and with each surviving interaction, it’s another notch in their belt, an ego boost that pushes them to greater risk until the threshold is broken and somebody dies.

  6. Kristin permalink
    June 3, 2014 6:25 pm

    Let me start off, I am a procap, at least for seaworld. Other places, not so much. With the new waterworks training, I am positively thrilled. Surprised that they are using Orkid, but thrilled. As far as the whole, “seaworld is putting their trainers in danger, they don’t care about them” thing, that’s a load of crap. I know when that trainer got out of the water with Orkid, she was ecstatic, and I would be too. Those trainers know the risks with working with these animals, and honestly, they probably wouldn’t have gotten the job if they weren’t absolutely in love with killer whales and didn’t want to be as close to them as possible.

    No two whales are the same. Orkid obviously has a reputation of being stubborn and causing accidents. Other whales, such as Corky, don’t. They are a lot like us in many ways, so saying they are all psychotic and aggressive is very untrue.

    I know if I was SeaWorld, I would not let a one-sided documentary and a bunch of animal rights activists take down my multi-billion dollar company.

  7. blackfish2014 permalink
    July 7, 2014 11:28 am

    I don’t know I as much as anyone love seeing these mammals up close and personal and learning about them but at what cost? They are taken out of their home (some killed as the movie Blackfish shows when they get caught up in the nets) then stored in small tanks and paraded around for entertainment, I just think it’s callous. As far as the trainers getting hurt/dying, I think SeaWorld didn’t give them the true facts/story but at this point it’s on them they know the risk if they chose to do it then it’s a choice, I feel more for the animals that have no choice in the matter and act out because they are in fact Wild animals doing what the instinctively do and more than that I find it almost humorous humans think they can do whatever the want with the animals then act shocked when an animal acts out violently…. What did they expect?

    • ashley permalink
      July 15, 2014 1:08 am

      All I keep seeing yall point your information back to is blackfish. Stop justifying seaworld because of ONE video, and maybe get off yalls ass and actually do some real research….maybe someone would listen to you then.

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