Orca Whale Morgan’s Fate Follows the Golden Rule: Those Who Have the Gold, Make the Rules

In an ideal world, business interests would not trump common sense, but time and again big business just walks over the rights of the average citizen. Here in the U.S. the wealthy and powerful have even disrupted the political system, leaving too many of us virtually jobless and homeless, and now it appears as though those conglomerates are able to influence decisions affecting the people of Europe as well.
But as the Occupy movement shows, global citizens have reached the limit of patience and tolerance – and now this one lost whale is rapidly becoming a symbol of that movement because despite scientific advice to the contrary, big business was able to prevail and a single Dutch judge was able to have this animal sent to an amusement park instead of setting her free.

Orca Morgan is hoisted by crane into a container on a truck at the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk, Netherlands, early Tuesday Nov. 29, 2011. A Dutch dolphin park has loaded a young killer whale into a container on a truck ahead of her transfer by plane to amusement park Loro Parque on the Spanish island of Tenerife later Tuesday after conservationists lost a legal batter to have her released. (AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski)

In this case, public opinion was up against several financial giants, and gradually the story of how the laws designed to preserve your rights have been sidestepped is beginning to emerge. At first glance the issue seems to involve just a young whale, a small Dutch aquarium, and a handful of conservationists – not of particular interest unless you are passionate about those things – but peel away the veneer and the real issue is revealed: money, and lots of it. This young orca is worth millions of dollars for her ability to bring in box receipts, and millions more for the fresh supply of genetic material she provides to the whole captive industry.
Who are the players? SeaWorld, though taking the heat from conservationists, is a bit player, as is the Dutch Harderwijk Dolphinarium where Morgan has been living, as is Loro Parque where she now lives with SeaWorld’s whales. The real money and power belong to the corporations that pull the puppet strings of the theme parks.
SeaWorld is owned by The Blackstone investment group, whose diverse holdings include several marine amusement parks in Europe.
Harderwijk Dolphinarium is owned by a french conglomerate, Compagnie des Alpes,  which was established to run ski resorts in 1989, but who bought marine amusement parks throughout Europe from the American corporation Six Flags relatively recently, in 2004. Six Flags had bought the parks around 1994 to 1998.
Loro Parque owner showing plans for the orca pools where Morgan now resides.

Loro Parque in the Spanish Canary Islands is owned by Wolfgang Kiessling, a german born businessman with a background as “an airline manager and flying in German investors”, who got around Spanish law prohibiting the amusement park by building it as part of hotel grounds in the  70’s.  But in 1994, about the time Six Flags was buying parks in Europe, Loro Parque formed a foundation for research, and at that time they had no orcas.
According to IslandsConnection.eu:

Then around 2003 out of the blue, they were contacted by SeaWorld, “they wanted to place four of their killer whales in appropriate installations that were not in any way competitive to them.  Thanks to our quality they decided that Loro Parque would be the right place to bring them to.”  Eventually they came to an agreement and the orcas were flown to Tenerife in 2006 and have been a monster hit with the public.

In 2010, two months before Dawn Brancheau was killed at SeaWorld Orlando, one of SeaWorld’s whales killed a trainer at Loro Parque.  In his excellent article, Blood in the Water, journalist Tim Zimmerman reports:

As I learned, SeaWorld was a key partner in the launch of the orca program at Loro Parque, loaning the park four killer whales to help it start Orca Ocean. SeaWorld’s vice president of communications Fred Jacobs explained it to me this way in an e-mail: “Loro Parque is a highly respected zoological institution, and we have worked with them for years. The relationship was conceived primarily as a breeding loan and to allow Loro Parque to showcase these remarkable animals.” He added, “The deal differed only in scale from the dozens of similar partnerships we are part of at any given time. The addition of Orca Ocean, a facility that is comparable in size and sophistication to anything found in the U.S., also provided us greater flexibility in managing our collection of killer whales.

The idea that SeaWorld “wanted to place four of their killer whales in appropriate installations that were not in any way competitive to them” is pretty amusing, because it implies that SeaWorld/Blackstone has too many whales, and can’t take care of them…but SeaWorld is breeding the whales as fast as they can, breeding them too young, and too frequently.
No, more likely, SeaWorld/Blackstone, the Dolphinarium/Compagnie des Alpes, and Loro Parque/Kiessling found a giant loophole in European law that otherwise prevents the captive industry from flourishing there;  according to sources, the amusement parks must  do research in order to house the whales.  As convenient as it is that Loro Parque now has a conservation foundation, the research with the orcas is ridiculously simplistic, could be done on any SeaWorld’s whales anywhere, and most likely exists to foil the laws.
On a par with Japan’s “research” whaling, these heavily invested companies have just managed to skirt the laws and to muffle the voices of those who protest.
It is not too late to return Morgan to her wild family.  It is still not clear that this was a legal move, and your opinion counts!
Here is a contact from a FaceBook page:
Under EU [European Union] law, it is illegal for orcas to be traded between parks for commercial purposes. One of the main arguments for sending Morgan was for ‘scientific research’, as a way to get around this law.
Please consider writing a quick email to:
Maria-Damanaki-news@ec.europa.eu
And POLITELY bring to their attention the fact that Loro Parque is NOT a research facility for cetaceans, but in fact a zoo which is accepted to be for commercial purposes. Therefore, under this law, Morgan’s transfer is illegal.
Please share!
Also this one lists many contacts, including:
1. Embassy of Norway
Norway was not once consulted during the court and they still have a rightful claim on Morgan, because she is a norwegian orca.
List of embassies in the US: http://www.norway.org/Embassy/Honorary-Consulates-General/
List of embassies in the UK: http://www.norway.org.uk/Embassy/consulates/

A Letter to Norway from Orca Whale Morgan’s Supporters

(There does not appear to be a FaceBook page for Sto,  but there is one for Arctic Whale Tours there, who offered to help.  Please consider ‘liking’ them!).

Dear Mayor Jørn Martinussen,

On behalf of the people everywhere who were rooting for the young killer whale Morgan to be returned to the waters of Norway where she originated, I want to send you heartfelt appreciation.
You and the community of Sto Harbour offered her a safe, natural place to be restored to health before she would be returned to the wild, and you made a full commitment to working with scientists from around the world.
It would have been an unparalleled opportunity for scientific discovery and an enchanting global learning experience.

Proposed site for Morgan's rehabilitation and release.

Arrow indicates approximate location of barrier net for Morgan’s sea-pen. Photo courtesy and © Per S. Nielsen (2007).

Unfortunately reason did not prevail, and the legal system of The Netherlands ruled that Morgan must be sent to an amusement park in Spain.

Where Morgan will have to live (Loro Parque, Spain).

The choice was made to disregard the opinions of leading scientists in the field of whale behavior and biology, so now Morgan will be placed with whales from SeaWorld.  SeaWorld is part of a huge corporation called the Blackstone Group, (who are also majority owners in Merlin Entertainments  – who in turn run Sealife Centres in the UK and also their European facilities including Gardaland in Italy and Heide Park in Germany).  They are wealthy and powerful.
One can only assume that the political pressure must have been huge, as a whale such as Morgan is worth millions of dollars for her ability to generate box-office receipts for amusement parks, and even more for her contribution of fresh genes to their breeding programs.
The whales in Loro Parque where she is supposed to live show signs of aggression towards humans and towards each other, and are bred too young and too often.
Captivity will wring the spirit out of her, and statistically her life will be shortened by decades.
You and the environmentally conscious citizens of Sto Harbour, Norway are a fine example of how to make a difference in global problems, large or small.
When asked to help, you said yes, and that alone is inspirational.  Maybe the people of Norway will get Morgan back someday, she belongs there.
Sincerely,

Morgan Supporters From Around the World

Orca Whale Morgan Headed to Life in Captivity, Loses Court Case, Loses the Chance of a Normal Life

It is 5:30 a.m. Pacific Time, on Monday 11/21/11, and the news has just come in from The Netherlands:  the judge ruled against the young orca Morgan and she faces a life in captivity. (Morgan is a juvenile killer whale, or orca, who was found alone in Dutch waters on June 23, 2010 and has been cared for since then by the Harderwijk Dolphinarium. She must now go to Spain and live in an amusement park with SeaWorld’s whales). Within minutes Twitter and Facebook began to light up with the news :
From Free Morgan Foundation’s Facebook page:
Today is a very sad day. After a year of fighting for the rights of Morgan and other whales in the future the unbelievable verdict is: Morgan can go to Loro Parque.

· · Share · 11 minutes ago ·

  • 26 shares
    • ‎:’-(

      10 minutes ago ·
    • f -ing hell 🙁

      10 minutes ago · · 1
    • Tears flowing here,God Bless her she deserves so much better from the human race 🙁 Broken hearted,is there no way we can fight this further?

      10 minutes ago · · 1
    • ‎…

      9 minutes ago ·
    • This is so very sad…. I am so very sorry for her, and all your hard work for her. We will stay on top of this, and never give up.

      9 minutes ago ·
    • no words for this….

      9 minutes ago ·
    • No!!!!! :”'( thats awful!!’ D”’:

      8 minutes ago ·
    • appeal??? dont know if that possible

      8 minutes ago ·
    • Makes me ashamed to be dutch.

      7 minutes ago · · 3
    • i wanna see the ‘reasons’ the judges have given.

      7 minutes ago ·
    • Our heads our in our hands, crying tears of pure heart wrenching sadness. If this is to be then please angels take her quickly, take her from this corrupt world of humans.

      7 minutes ago · · 3
    • Sorry het woord dat ik nu ga schrijven: GODVERDOMME…..

      7 minutes ago ·
    • i cant farking believe it!

      7 minutes ago · · 1
    • Alleen maar tranen hier…….

      6 minutes ago ·
    • What is wrong with the judge?? We are living in a big fat hypocritic lie!!! So sad, poor Morgan, so sorry baby….

      6 minutes ago ·
    • r No…. I dont believ it.. Its just not fair!

      6 minutes ago ·
    • snap het dus echt niet he… sorry

      6 minutes ago ·
    • Nooooooooooo, please noooooooooo

      5 minutes ago ·
    • ‎*crying*

      5 minutes ago ·
    • Makes me ashamed to belong to the human race with the way we are allowed to “own “wildlife “and not be their guardians fgs I cant stop crying have to get off pc before I short out kb!Sorry,teary hugs to all,we can pray and wait to see if appeal is possible X

      5 minutes ago ·
    • Disgusting, utterly disgusting…

      4 minutes ago ·
    • Unbelievable

      4 minutes ago ·
    • What?

      4 minutes ago ·
    • I’m ashamed to be living in the netherlands!! I’m ashamed of our people of the goverment.

      3 minutes ago ·
    • I can’t believe this is happening.

      3 minutes ago ·
    • ‎:(

      2 minutes ago ·
    • I really want to know the reasons! Why did the judge chose to do this to her!?

      2 minutes ago ·
    • Tragic.

      a few seconds ago ·

Orca Whale Morgan’s Proposed Sea Pen is Embraced by Community and is Close to Wild Orcas



Morgan's life hangs in the balance.


“A juvenile killer whale called Morgan was found alone in Dutch waters on June 23, 2010 and has been cared for since then by the Harderwijk Dolphinarium. Now that Morgan appears to be in good health, the Free Morgan Support Group , together with a global team of experts, has presented a solid plan to return her to her native habitat. The plan was designed and endorsed by scientists and experts in orca physiology, behaviour and acoustics.” This whale faces a life in captivity and will be sent to Loro Parque, Spain if the judgement is against her. The decision is scheduled be made public on Monday, November 21st, 2011.
Morgan’s potential sea pen pictured below.

Proposed site for Morgan's rehabilitation and release.

Stø Harbour and surrounds. Arrow indicates approximate location of barrier net for Morgan’s sea-pen. Photo courtesy and © Per S. Nielsen (2007).

The following are exerpts from “Stø Community Visit by Free Morgan Foundation”, unpublished Report by van Twillert, Jan & Visser, Ingrid N. . Prepared by Free Morgan Foundation, 19 November 2011. Available from www.freemorgan.org.
The location of Stø, in northern Norway, is an ideal location for the implementation of the Rehabilitation and Release Plan. The area provides not only all the logistical requirements but is also a prime habitat for orca, with sightings regularly reported within a 10 km range of the harbour and site for the rehabilitation sea-pen. In addition, the local community of Stø sees Morgan’s return to these waters, as not only a benefit to the Stø Community in terms of possible economic benefit, but also it is clear that they genuinely care about the marine environment and its inhabitants.
The fishing village Stø is situated at 68° north, approximately 200 km north of the Arctic Circle. It is a small active fishing community with approximately 200 inhabitants. It is situated in Øksnes Municipality, (Nordland County). The Municipality has a population of approximately 4,500 people, of which roughly 2,800 live in Myre, the administration centre.

This small, remote village in Norway embraces the opportunity to help Morgan. Standing in front of a life-size Minke whale model at the township of Myre are Camilla Ilmoni (Arctic Whale Tours, Manager), Jan van Twillert (FMF), Dr Ingrid N. Visser (FMF) and the Øksnes Municipality Mayor, Mr Jørn Martinussen. Photo © FMF, by Lauri Heiskanen (Arctic Whale Tours) (2011)

Stø resident, Unni K. Berglund, stated that “This is a very interesting project for Stø and I do hope that we can get Morgan to us. She really deserves to be set free and we all wish to her welcome back home.” Another resident,Sabine Schwab, stated “I have always liked orcas but looking at the pictures of Morgan in that tiny barren tank, I so desperately want to see her out of there and swimming free in the open ocean, here at Stø.”
During the entire visit by the FMF the Stø Community were remarkably positive and excited about the potential of helping Morgan on her quest for freedom and her ultimate return to the wild. Offers of support, logistical assistance, equipment provision, accommodation hire, donation of time and expertise were free-flowing and constant. Any challenges that the FMF presented, such as the placement location of the sea-pen were met with interest and dialogue with all such challenges having solutions presented and/or alternatives offered.
One of the fisherman’s wives, Ellinor Ulriksen, who has been living in Stø for almost 40 years stated “I hope Morgan can come back to us and be set free. The Free Morgan Foundation has done a fantastic job in helping her.”
From the mayor:  “I am very positive about Morgan coming to our community. I will personally look forward to helping on her road to freedom.”


Springer, another orca who was captured, released, and reunited successfully. She still swims wild and free. (Photo Courtesy Leah Robinson, Orcalab Aug 16 2011)



Please contact the Free Morgan Foundation and The Orca Coalition for more information.

Endangered Orca Whale Lolita at Risk – Miami Seaquarium Makes a “Rave”-ing Lunatic Decision

This week it was reported that two dolphins died at an amusement park in Switzerland following the loud noise of the music and possible drugging by partying guests (see previous post) when a two day Rave event was held there, yet the Miami Seaquarium refuses to alter plans to hold a huge loud party on their grounds on November 25th.
From a business point of view, and given the sheer numbers of event planners and guests involved, it is easy to understand that changing venues at such short notice would be difficult. Yet you can’t help but wonder why the seaquarium agreed to hold the event on their grounds in the first place – even though the event, the White Party, is designed to raise money for HIV/AIDS awareness, the bottom line is the same – it will be loud and presents a real hazard.
“Miami Seaquarium is proud to welcome all the White Party Week guests to South Florida with this special offer to get in the water with dolphins for a truly memorable experience,” said Eric Eimstad, Vice President of Marketing at the Miami Seaquarium. (sfgn.com). It is all about the money that the partyers will bring – for instance the opportunity to swim with a dolphin costs $199.00 plus tax.
There will be loud music all night, hordes of people under the influence of one thing or another, and to cap it off, fireworks.

Lolita's small pool has no cover and no way to escape the noise.

Having to endure this is Tokitae,  a member of an endangered orca population.  Her stage name is “Lolita”, and she will be in a nearby pool.
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund:

Lolita is an orca who has been living in a barren tank at the Miami Seaquarium for the past four decades. She has had no orca companions since 1980. She was captured in the wild in the 1970s, from the “Southern Resident” killer whale distinct population segment.
Despite the fact that her pod is considered endangered and as such enjoys the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) has chosen to exempt the captive members of her species from ESA protections. NMFS has provided no reason for this regulatory exemption.
NMFS’ failure to provide Lolita with the protections enjoyed by the wild members of her pod has enabled the Miami Seaquarium to keep this highly intelligent and social animal in conditions that violate the Endangered Species Act. NMFS has clearly stated that the Endangered Species Act “applies to both wild and captive populations of a species.
Urge the NMFS to include captive members of Lolita’s Southern Resident pod in ESA protections provided to pod members living in the wild.

Hopefully the seaquarium will have security guards present, and will have trainers there to watch over her for signs of stress, because this event may cause problems for her or the other dolphin species at the amusement park.  You can contact the Miami Seaquarium to lodge a complaint about the planned event, it just takes a minute or two.
Go to: Sign the petition to take action now to help with Lolita’s legal defense.

SeaWorld Thinks Trainer’s Death Irrelevant, Tries to Have Case Dismissed

Jim Atchison, President and C.E.O. of SeaWorld

According to this news report, SeaWorld tried to get the case against them dismissed yesterday on the grounds that Dawn Brancheau (the trainer who was attacked and killed by the killer whale Tilikum last year) died moments after the show was officially over:

But in a shocking move this morning, SeaWorld attorneys asked the Judge not to consider her death in his ruling, because it happened at the conclusion of a “Dine with Shamu” show. Attorney Carla Gunnin said even though there was still a crowd, “the announcer had already told them the show was over.”
Brancheau’s widower Scott, who has been in the courtroom for all the proceedings, was visibly upset at the notion. The timing of the death is important, because OSHA’s citation only deals with trainers interaction with whales during shows.

Laughably, SeaWorld then trotted out lead trainer Jenny Mairot, who said that Tilikum (known to have killed three people) is “the most congenial, easy-going, predictable whale” she had ever worked with.
Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel reports that:

[Kelly Flaherty Clark, SeaWorld Orlando’s curator of animal training] testified that Tilikum had never before exhibited any behavior in which he attempted to grab or pull anyone and that the whale had been “desensitized,” or conditioned not to react, to trainers’ ponytails. (SeaWorld says Tilikum pulled Brancheau into his pool by her long ponytail, though OSHA has argued she was actually grabbed by her arm.)
Black pointed out that SeaWorld had seen other whales grab at trainers, such as in a 1999 incident in which a whale pulled a trainer into the water by her dangling sweatshirt. The incident prompted SeaWorld Orlando to require all trainers to be wearing only their wetsuits when working with the whales.
Black also argued that the only way SeaWorld “knew” Tilikum was desensitized to hair was the fact that it repeatedly exposed trainers’ hair to him and that he hadn’t yet grabbed it.

If SeaWorld is confident that their whales are desensitized to ponytails, why did three trainers Including Jenny Mairot have theirs cut off following Dawn’s death?
These trainers no doubt miss their colleague who died, and generously donated their hair to support the Dawn Brancheau Foundation – still, SeaWorld reportedly has made it a requirement that long hair must be in a bun or otherwise contained.
It is a tacit acknowledgement on SeaWorld’s part that they can’t guarantee the safety of their trainers, because they have now had to eliminate all clothing other than wet suits on their trainers, and now have eliminated ponytails on the trainers as well.
What is next?
Or rather, who is next?

Dolphins Die After Rave Was Held at Swiss Theme Park; Drugs Thrown into the Pool is Suspected Cause

Not since Dr. John Lilly fed LSD to dolphins in the 60’s has such a twisted and disturbing possibility been brought to the public eye.
The thought that dolphins could have been thrown enough Ecstacy or similar psychotropic drug by frenetic Ravers to cause two dolphins to die painful, extended deaths after enduring weeks of who knows what kind of mental distress is an outrage. Even if the deaths turn out to be due to an unrelated poisoning or heretofore unknown disease, having been bombarded by rave music for two days must have been torture in itself and no doubt compromised their immune systems.
“The sound levels which would have been heard by the dolphins is comparable with that of a pneumatic drill on top volume,” Andreas Morlok, an animal rights activist told The Daily Mail. “Before the event we warned of these noise levels and the damage which could be done and called for the event to be called off.”

Police looking into the deaths in Connyland, Lipperswil, Switzerland, initially thought the deafening music from the rave may have killed dolphins Shadow and Chelmers.
But zoo vets are awaiting toxicology test results to see if they were poisoned by narcotics thrown into their enclosure during the rave.
Shadow was found soon after the event but Chelmers died two days later after a ‘drawn out and painful’ death.
Connyland keeper Nadja Gasser told local media: ‘The death was very drawn out and painful. The death went on for over an hour. It was horrendous. I have not been able to sleep since.’


Lilly’s psychobabble experiments yielded only one bit of scientifically collected information: dolphin’s breathing rates and vocalizations increased under the influence of the drug, both signs of extreme stress, how frightening to contemplate.

SeaWorld’s Training Methods; Why Trainer Injuries Are Inevitable

Imagine yourself in a walled enclosure, alone, frightened and confused.  You don’t really understand how you got there, and never in your life have you been away from your family.  There is nothing to do, just the featureless walls of the pool, and no way out.  Eventually some strange being throws you a big mac, fries and a coke because that is what they think you eat.  They stare at you, their mouths move and make weird sounds which have no meaning, and everyday is the same at first.  Then they come with the big mac, but won’t give it to you.  You wait.  You get frustrated, you run around, and finally you try to jump up and get the food, when a whistle sounds and the being throws the big mac down to you.
After a time or two you figure out that you have to jump, the whistle blows and your dinner comes…except then the beings only give you a bite, and you have to work harder to get the rest.  Then you have to do a jump, run to the left, another jump, run to the right to get your bite of food.
Eventually you learn to stick your arm out so they can take your blood, then you have to let these beings ride you around.
But you are smart, it gives you something to do for at least part of the day, and for the most part the beings don’t hurt you.  But neither do they understand your needs or your moods, and not all the beings do things the way you are used to and it is confusing.
In essence, that is the process that whales and dolphins go through when they are trained. There is a whole science behind the method, and in order to be a good trainer you must have a skill set that is completely irrelevant to whether or not you are able to swim, dive, and perform in the water shows.

Courtesy InsideFlorida.com

What is very important to understand is this: the ‘trainers’ you see swimming with the whales and pirouetting around the pool perimeter only need to be able to comprehend the basic principles of training; they are performers and athletes, as are the whales.  Both the whales and humans are trained to work together to amuse the public and to make money for SeaWorld, but  there is no guarantee that either has the ability to interpret the nuances of behavior required to keep the humans safe.
To complicate the situation, when animals are trained it is inevitable that all kinds of behavioral patterns are acquired that were not intended, for instance one whale might think he is supposed to make sounds while doing the trick, while another one doesn’t.  If a trainer doesn’t notice or care, what you really have is two different tricks.
On the other hand, one whale might decide that the precise angle of a trainer’s arm is important, and if another trainer doesn’t do it exactly the same, or if any trainer changes day to day, it can confuse the whale.  Enough of that, and the animal can become frustrated and refuse to perform.  And a frustrated animal is a dangerous animal, no matter how kind they are.
An example that is more familiar to most of us is that of horses – many elite riders know nothing about daily horse care, and have no clue how to train horses.  They are gifted, trained athletes – yet they can get into serious trouble if their horse is in pain, frightened or out of control.  Even the most famous horse trainers, such as John Lyons, will not get on a horse that is signalling that the horse is not in a good mental state.  It is just too dangerous, and one of the first things horse owners are taught these days is how to “read” the horse’s body language, and when to walk away or risk a wreck.
But when it comes to whales, “reading” their body language is tricky, and next to impossible if you are in the water with the commotion of the shows.  So trainers rely on other trainers and ‘spotters’ to let them know how things are progressing, but even that is a judgement call and the trainers are under enormous pressure to complete their performances.
There is too much that can go wrong, too much that each trainer doesn’t know about previous events that might set a whale off – for instance, maybe a trainer accidentally slipped and covered a whale’s blowhole when they surfaced in an earlier show…this may be enough to make the whale resist doing that trick in the next show, and get ticked off if he is forced.

Alex Martinez was killed by another of SeaWorld's Whales two months before Dawn Brancheau.

The whales also get upset if they feel they have performed correctly and are not rewarded, so if they tilt a bit in practice with no trainer aboard and it gets rewarded, but that same tilt causes the trainer to fall off later and the whale is not rewarded, this is confusing and frustrating to the whale.  Many people believe that this what caused a killer whale belonging to SeaWorld but living in Loro Parque, Spain, to turn on his trainer and kill him just two months before Dawn Brancheau was killed at SeaWorld, Orlando.
(See Blood in the Water).
It is very easy for trainers to fall into the trap of believing that because they love the whales, the whales love them back.  Maybe so, maybe some whales, maybe some whales for some people, or maybe not at all.  Killer whales are benign in the wild, but unpredictable in captivity, and their attempts to communicate or discipline trainers can be deadly, no matter what feelings we have for them, or they for us.
As long as these whales are kept in unnatural situations without stable companions of their own species, people are going to get hurt, whether by accident or on purpose.

Want to be a Whale Trainer? What Your Life is Worth, Part Two.

In part one of this series we looked at the salary a whale trainer makes at SeaWorld:  after five years someone starting after February 1st, 2011 can expect to make $18 to $21 per hour  (it is slightly higher for trainers hired previously because they get a hazardous job bonus of $5.00 per hour, but SeaWorld changed its mind and is no longer offering the bonus – probably because it is a tacit admittance that the work is dangerous). The job is demanding and dangerous, and the trainers have no union to back them up.  Powerless to negotiate appropriate salaries, the trainers put themselves at risk anywhere from once to as many as six times a day, in essence getting paid just $26.00 each time they enter the water.

Humans rely upon the kind nature of killer whales to endure their lives in captivity, but it is a dangerous practice.

Not only is this job hazardous, but when the trainers are not in the water, SeaWorld keeps them busy with all sorts of menial tasks, as one former trainer shares:

Early shift starts at 5am or 7am depending on what was needed usually one person in at 5am to break the night watch person and another at 7am to help with buckets  – making up fish buckets, stuffing vitamins and medicines in fish and scrubbing fish room and cleaning up and setting up for first show, feeding animals their medicated fish – maybe a short training session before the first show.

Mid-morning shift starts around 9-10 – does the first show, then training sessions throughout the day – those of us not directly working with animals would be on cleaning duty, practicing show lines on stage (AV people could give you a tape to watch which you could then go over with another trainer), lots of cleaning, scrubbing algae off of pools, shuttling SCUBA tanks to the fill station.
.
Also setting fish buckets out for shows and retrieving and scrubbing used fish buckets.  Really, it was all about the buckets – I definitely inhaled my share of cleanser .  🙂

I did a lot of physical training on my lunch hour – running, lifting weights, stretching etc. The job is very physically demanding even if you weren’t doing waterwork in shows every day, so most people did their best to stay in shape so as not to get injured.
It was common to work a late shift, leave the park at 10-11pm and have to come back for an early shift then next day.  So trainers could often be sleep deprived.  Generally the newbies were on the “bucket scrubbing” shift and the seasoned trainers worked the later shifts, but sometimes they needed more people around for various reasons, so our schedules tended to vary.

Injuries are rampant, and under-reported.  One source said “To this day, despite over 100 aggressive incidents, permanent disabling injuries and even death, Sea World is continuing to allow its animal trainers to work in close proximity to a now obvious danger”.

Photo courtesy 'Occupy SeaWorld'

Add to the lousy pay the fact that the trainers are pressured to keep silent about what goes on, and even to be callous towards the conditions the animals are forced to endure, as this photo reveals.  Sources report that few if any of SeaWorld’s trainers have seen killer whales in the wild, where the whales live peacefully alongside humans, where the whales remain with their families for much, if not all, of their lives.

Being a whale trainer turns out to be a low paying, high risk, embarrassing job that looks glamorous until you are involved.

Want to be a Whale Trainer? What Your Life is Worth, Part One.

Size comparison

See OSHA Goes After SeaWorld for background information and trial updates.
As the day grows closer for SeaWorld’s continued court case against the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), which found them guilty of negligence in the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau last year, several ex- SeaWorld employees have stepped forward to share their experiences. Although they are willing to have their names revealed, it isn’t relevant for the point of this article and in no way do I wish to create problems for them, so the final decision was to keep the sources anonymous for the time being.
As these former trainers relayed their experiences, I found my stomach turning at the thought of the danger that faced them daily, the low wages, and the lack of benefits that they accrued. Worse yet are the stories of how SeaWorld covered up injuries.  Killer whales are huge animals, so any mistake made by the whale or trainer in which the timing is off for a stunt can result in serious injury, and that is if the whale is cooperating – if they are not, it can get worse, and quickly.
Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum

So how much do the trainers get paid? When you consider that these people are elite athletes, required to free dive to a depth of 30-40 feet and to stay trim and fit, that they must be confident in their ability to communicate with the whales and to know how extricate themselves from danger, you would assume that they made a lot of money, like most other professional athletes.
Not so.  Not even close.
Senior trainer pay (after five years of service) at Shamu Stadium for trainers that were employed as of February 1st is only $23 an hour in Texas and $26 in California. For new hires with years of experience, that pay will not apply and they will only get $18 per hour in Texas, $21 per hour in California. The highest pay grade, Senior 1, is $26-$27 an hour in Texas and $29-$30 in California (and $5 per hour less for new hires).
The trainers have no union. SeaWorld has managed to keep their trainers from organizing.
No job security. What happens when they get too old, too injured, gain or lose too much weight?  What about pregnancy and parental leave?
The job seems glamorous and attracts young people at an age when they are not too concerned about their future, yet within a few years they may become parents, realize that they are risking their lives for low wages, and decide to move on…to what?
How safe are trainers even out of the water?  Dawn’s death, in which she was dragged into the water by the killer whale Tilikum, shows that trainers are never really safe when they are within reach.  This video shows a dangerous encounter that could have had a similar outcome:

Next: What the job really entails