Anatomy Of A Minor Killer Whale Incident

“Woo-hoo, Jeff Ventre just dove into the pool!”

Alternate titles: “Taku’s Follies,” or “The Challenges of Killer Whale Calves.”

The more you dig, or get taken, into the art of killer whale training, the more you understand how variable and distinctive the killer whale personalities are, how context (what is going on in the back pool, what happened the night before, who has a calf, etc) is everything, and how killer whale trainers must constantly make subjective judgements about how to deal with the almost infinite challenges or wrinkles which can pop up at any time.

That’s why experience is so crucial. It’s also why the “risk” attached to killer whale training does not just involve the major incidents (which can mean severe injury or death) that are apparent to everyone, but runs through all the small decisions, or minor incidents as well. Because a small decision, or minor incident, if not handled with the right judgement can easily become a major incident, with major consequences.

Here’s a quiet case in point, from the film archives of former SeaWorld Florida trainer Jeff Ventre. It was filmed in November 1994 by the stadium producers, who have have watched enough whale behaviors to know something is not right, and shows a young Taku (just over a year old) coming up under Ventre and bumping him.

Here’s Ventre’s explanation of what you are seeing, and how he handled the situation:

From a safety/behavioral  standpoint I ignored Taku and elected to exit the scene by mounting Katina. I made a decision to get up on her and steer her away (you can see the touch steering stimulus and she makes a quick right turn). I felt that trying to exit the water right in front of Taku might become a game and he could pull me in.

Love the show director’s comment:¬†“That’s gotta make you nervous, man.

So Ventre had to make a lightning quick judgement about how to exit the pool, and had the experience or presence of mind (or both) to Continue reading “Anatomy Of A Minor Killer Whale Incident”

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