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.
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”.
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.