Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Florida Lobbyist Group Lashes out at Blackfish Supporters and Gets a TOP Response

The Orca Project defends Blackfish supporters & rebuts outrageous lobbyist from Tallahassee. 

JK writes, "We're just getting started."  

This week, the CEO of a Florida lobby group known as the "Florida Attractions Association" (FAA) lashed out at Blackfish supporters in an unhinged & inaccurate letter to drum up support for one of his biggest donors, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment (owned by the Blackstone Group).  Bill Lupfer referred to animal justice advocates as radical extremists and said that CNN was desperate for ratings.  Lupfer seems unknowledgeable regarding the CNN Films branch of the network, which, according to CNN... 

... brings documentaries beyond the small screen by developing strategic partnerships to leverage distribution opportunities at film festivals and in theaters. 

CNN Films has about a dozen high quality feature documentaries it purchased distribution rights for and has been screening on cable TV. Blackfish is one of many, and notably has been the most highly viewed & rated film in the 2013 series. CNN reports that it will air Blackfish again in January of 2014. 

The intent of the Lupfer's rant was to mobilize voting at TMZ's "You Be the Judge" poll. TMZ wants to know if you like the marine park or would rather "Shut it down." The strategy backfired, and instead, mobilized a community of informed and passionate Blackfish supporters, who reject the idea of keeping cetaceans in concrete pools for corporate profits. "Shut it down" is up by 24 points, currently. 


Here's the opening two paragraphs of CEO Lupfer's letter: 
Dear FAA Member,  
One of our members is under attack. SeaWorld has a remarkable history of investing millions of dollars in their conservation efforts, habitat restoration programs, protection of endangered species, and producing public education programs to inspire millions about the importance of preserving our planet’s natural resources. They are a global leader in animal welfare.  
Unfortunately, a few radical extremist groups are attacking SeaWorld.  CNN network, desperate for ratings, modified their all “news” format to air a skewed documentary denigrating SeaWorld.  A result has been the cancellation of some music groups who had been booked to perform at SeaWorld next spring. 
[The entire call-to-action letter is here: http://floridaattractions.org/en/art/1364]
Bill Lupfer, President & CEO, Florida Attractions Association, Tallahassee, FL

As you might guess, the letter above didn't go over well with animal lovers, and generated thousands of responses on social media, including a sampling here: 

It also led to Lupfer shutting down his company's Facebook page to delete the hundreds of pro-Blackfish, anti-FLA and anti-FAA comments; and to block commenters.  


Finally, it drew this articulate & powerful response from John Kielty of  The Orca Project, (Thank You, JK) who says, on behalf of many:   

Dear Mr Lupfer,

Your article regarding SeaWorld posted today on the Florida Attractions Association website was brought to my attention and raises some concerns.

I understand your position (and your job) depends on the support of your members and that you must do what you believe is in the best interest of your membership.

However, this article crosses the line in your categorization of of those who are opposed to the treatment of captive killer whales at your member facility SeaWorld.

There are tens of thousands (if not millions) of caring individuals around the world who have made their own informed decisions about captive cetaceans (dolphins, killer-whales, etc) despite SeaWorld's conservation efforts with other animals. I count myself as one of them. And I'm far from being an "extremist". I'm just an intelligent, free-thinking individual who can analyze facts and make decisions upon them. That's what most of the Blackfish supporters are.

By utilizing the same tactics and "extremist" rhetoric put forth by SeaWorld, your organization will alienate the very people that Florida's tourism industry depends on. It is also exposing your other members to a collective reasoning that they too must support orca captivity, and hence, will also be subject to public scrutiny for supporting such.

I'm quite certain you've seen the documentary. And I'm also sure SeaWorld is a big contributor to your organization. I just hope you'll make some better decisions on how to proceed from here. You are exposing yourself, your organization, and all of your members to quite an onslaught of bad publicity.

By the way- 3 more bands have cancelled their SeaWorld performances since you wrote this article and the tens of thousands of fans are taking notice. And we haven't really even started on the business associates of SeaWorld. So tread lightly Mr. Lupfer. We're just getting started.

All the best,
John Kielty
Co-founder, The Orca Project

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Blackfish DVD Extras

Welcome to Voice of the Orcas blog. If you've found your way here from the Blackfish DVD, you're in the right spot. There are 8 great new interviews that supplement the movie, including one with Gabriela Cowperthaite, the films director, and Dr. Naomi Rose, a leading killer whale expert. 

Gabriela has a new interview on the movie DVD 
Below are three of the papers linked to in the DVD extras, and other supplemental material that help to shed light on the practice of keeping killer whales (Orcinus orca) in concrete enclosures for profit. This practice will end at some point, and our goal is to get information out and accelerate the process. 

To dig in deeper, please consider visiting our primary website, which has a more robust collection of Q&A videos, photos & a science page with dozens of references and links. 

All of the material below can be downloaded and printed. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

OSHA Calls SeaWorld Unsafe in Official Legal Document

The following is copied directly from the  Legal Brief Filed by OSHA 


US Court of Appeals 
District of Columbia 
OSHA's Legal Brief vs SeaWorld 
Beginning 12 November 2013 

Incidents Occurred Regularly for Twenty Years Despite 
SeaWorld’s Efforts to Prevent Them

SeaWorld’s argument that its safety protocols and operant conditioning program provide sufficient protection to its employees is disproven by the 600 pages of incident reports documenting unanticipated and undesirable killer whale behavior with trainers. The reports describe some 100 occurrences of killer whales biting, hitting, lunging toward, pulling on, pinning, dragging, and aggressively swimming over SeaWorld trainers. SeaWorld claims the frequency of such incidents has tapered off over time, but there have been incidents every year but two since 1988, culminating in trainer deaths in 2009 and 2010.

The incident reports not only document harmful killer whale behavior, but also show that, time after time, SeaWorld had no explanation for why an incident occurred and was ineffective at preventing similar or even identical behavior from happening again. Although not all incidents resulted in serious injury, a number were chillingly similar to incidents with less happy endings. One example of whale aggression that continued regularly over twenty years is whales grabbing trainers’ feet or legs, often pulling them into or under the water.

Operant Conditioning Does Not Keep Trainers Safe

SeaWorld depends almost exclusively on operant conditioning to ensure safe

interactions with its captive killer whales. As the implementers of operant conditioning, trainers are thus responsible for their own safety and are “the primary source of management’s knowledge.

Through operant conditioning, trainers are expected to recognize precursors to aggressive or

unwanted behavior and to respond appropriately, whatever that may mean (when presented with unexpected behavior by a killer whale, “the trainer has to make a judgment there on the spot as to how to deal with a new scenario.”).

Unfortunately, operant conditioning is an imperfect system. It has 2 major flaws:

1. Killer whales do unpredictable things and 
2. Trainers make mistakes

These facts are amply documented in the incident reports. Examples include:

A: “I think this is one of those situations where we will never quite understand the intent of [the whale’s] movement. I cannot rule out that it was done either on purpose or by accident. I think we have learned our lesson of our unpredictability of our animals even in the best of situations.”
B. “Knootka is a very unpredictable whale.”
C. “Because [the whale’s] never done anything like this, no one was expectingit.”

D. “As evident by this episode, our whales should never been [sic] viewed as routine, nor predictable.”

E. “I am still very confused that mistakes like this can be made by our senior trainers.”

F. “[The trainer] put himself in a very compromising situation.”

G. “[The trainer] should never have attempted to get out of the water while the whale still had a hold of her sock.”

SeaWorld argues that it learns from each incident and attempts to prevent similar

recurrences.  However, as the incident reports demonstrate, SeaWorld is not as successful as it purports to be in preventing recurrences of dangerous killer whale behavior. In addition, SeaWorld’s “learn as you go” approach means that trainers are continually at risk from novel or unanticipated whale behaviors.

SeaWorld appears proud of the fact that its employees “controlled their own exposure to the alleged hazards,” calling this a “culture of empowerment.” However, placing the responsibility for employee safety on the employees themselves is, as the ALJ correctly pointed out, in contravention of the OSH Act. “An employer cannot shift [OSH Act] responsibility to  its employees by relying on them to, in effect, determine whether the conditions under

which they are working are unsafe.” ("Final responsibility for compliance with the requirements of this act remains with the employer.”).

Likewise, the fact that some employees “testified that they felt safe” does not mean that they were safe. “The particular views of work[ers] are not necessarily, and often times are not the best determination as to what is safe and what is unsafe.”

Finally, SeaWorld contends that it cannot be held responsible for mitigation of the hazard posed by close contact with killer whales because all of the potential harm to its employees comes from “exceptional and unpredictable whale behavior.”

 SeaWorld even suggests that Ms. Brancheau’s death was beyond the company’s control. (“SeaWorld could not have predicted this terrible incident”). 

But the whole point is that SeaWorld knows killer whale behavior is unpredictable. Given the known unpredictability of killer whale behavior and the record of past incidents, it was entirely foreseeable that an event like Dawn Brancheau’s death could occur. That Tilikum attacked Ms. Brancheau without providing the “precursors” SeaWorld relies on shows the failure of operant 
conditioning to keep trainers safe; it does not render Ms. Brancheau’s death – or the hazard of close contact with killer whales – unpreventable.

SeaWorld’s Emergency Procedures Do Not Keep Trainers Safe

The second major failing in SeaWorld’s operant conditioning program is

that the emergency rescue procedures meant to “recall” or distract a whale from
dangerous behavior have proven to be grossly inadequate. The incident reports
document at least seventeen instances, dating to 1989, where killer whales ignored
attempts to “recall” them from unwanted behavior.

Most recently, recall attempts were useless in the deaths of both Alexis Martinez and

Dawn Brancheau. SeaWorld’s emergency procedures are contained in its “Animal Training
SOP.” When an emergency occurs, trainers are to sound a siren, after which “the senior ranking trainer should attempt to establish control of animal(s) in the environment with recall stimuli.” These “recall stimuli,” which SeaWorld has been using at least since the late 1980s, include trainers slapping the water and the sound of “recall tones.”  The killer whales are supposed to respond to these signals by “calmly swimming to [the] stage.”

As the incident reports recount, however, and as SeaWorld employees admitted at the hearing, these procedures are ineffective in most serious emergencies. Kelly Flaherty Clark admitted that both a recall tone and recall slaps were attempted when Dawn Brancheau was in the water with Tilikum; she also admitted that there was no expectation that they would work. 

Brian Rokeach agreed: 
Q: So, Sea World knows from experience that emergency callback procedures performed while the whale is in a heightened state, if you will, will rarely succeed in getting the whale tocome back? 
A: I guess – I’m sorry, there hasn’t been a lot of success in that specific scenario.

In an incident in 2004, killer whale Kyuquot repeatedly swam over trainer Steve Aibel. Mr. Aibel wrote: “[The whale] blocked my exit from the pool and sat in front of me. I asked for a recall tone and paired it with a point to control. There [sic] were both ignored. There were two more recall tones and three or four more hand slaps. All were ignored.” Ex. C-6 at 749. Indeed, SeaWorld staff apparently decided later that these recall tones and hand slaps did nothing but agitate the
whale further.

One (unidentified) SeaWorld commenter observed, “Let’s face it, in these types of incidents, I don’t recall any whale responding to any hand slap, food bucket, or any other distraction we tried to implement.”

SeaWorld continued to use recall tones and hand slaps for more than twenty years even though such techniques were demonstrably unable to keep trainers safe. As the ALJ found, “[d]espite the repeated failures of the recall signals, SeaWorld continued to rely on them to protect its employees.” 
In short: Two killer whales trained under SeaWorld’s operant conditioning program killed two trainers two months apart. Under these circumstances it cannot be said that SeaWorld’s training program has reduced the recognized hazard to a significant degree. It clearly did
not eliminate the recognized hazard. The Secretary has established SeaWorld’s safety training program, both for killer whales and for its trainers, is inadequate as a means of feasible abatement.

This factual finding is supported by substantial evidence and should not be disturbed by the Court.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Animal Justice Advocates Diving Deeper with Death at SeaWorld Book

In a recent article at Psychology Today, scientific writer, biologist, and mother, Rachel Clark referred to David Kirby's book Death at SeaWorld as a "Bellwether." Wikipedia defines a bellwether as: 

Any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings. The term is derived from the Middle Englishbellewether, and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a... ram (a wether) leading his flock of sheep. The movements of the flock could be noted by hearing the bell before the flock was in sight.

Two of the protagonists in Death at SeaWorld are Ex SeaWorld Trainer Carol Ray & Killer Whale Expert Naomi Rose PhD

In Rachel's words:
"I knew when I read Death at SeaWorld last summer that this book was about much more than killer whales. It was about our society, how it’s structured, and the systems we have in place that allow, and even encourage, brutalization of animals, people and the Earth…legal and corporate systems that continue to foster climate change and other instances of severe deterioration of our natural systems.

What I didn’t know, then, was that Death at SeaWorld was a bellwether, one of the first in this particular upheaval (see also Blood in the Water in Outside Magazine by journalist and Blackfish co-producer, Tim Zimmermann). Now, Blackfish is further advancing this powerful shift to a societal awakening, and to incontrovertible demands for justice."

Death at SeaWorld  is a "Bellwether" 

Due in part to the success of Gabriela Cowperthwaite's film Blackfish, and also to the broadening demographic of informed citizens, Death at SeaWorld is getting into the hands, and minds, of more and more people. And that's a good thing for all small cetaceans, wild & captive. 

Below, see what other readers are now saying about Death at SeaWorld, at "Goodreads." There is also a video featuring Dr. Naomi Rose, called, "The Real SeaWorld" and a video of the Southern Resident orcas.  Lastly, a live Twitter feed has been embedded here that tracks the hashtag




Recent Reviews of Death at SeaWorld

These are published at Goodreads HERE:

I never knew I had an opinion on whale captivity. I was horrified at the death of the trainer at Sea World and believed it's just common sense not to hang out with killer whales. After watching the movie Blackfish recently, I was struck by the seemingly deep emotions experienced by the whales when they were captured, both by the pod members still at Sea and those taken away. I needed to know more. I know more now but this is a decidedly one sided picture as Sea World did not participate. Kirby p...more

One of the best books I have read. Everyone should pick up this book because its such an eye opener. It is very well written and interesting enough that you won't want to but it down. Prior to reading this book the documentary The Cove had put me off ever visiting Seaworld and/or other marine parks. After read this I will whole-heartily encourage others not to step foot in any Seaworld parks until they stop the shows and return eligible whales back to the sea. I remember when I was little I want...more

I read Death at Sea World knowing I would leave haunted and wanting to do more than read. he thought even passed my mind, "How much better the world might be without our grand ideas." I had little idea how the "70 cents of every dollar" that each Shamu makes for Sea World -- they're all named that, since most die or become unmanageable so quickly -- drives the decision-making and the frequently successful lobbying efforts of Sea World. I've become an advocate of gradually letting each re-learn t...more

Elizabeth rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: activismfavorites
I was actually really skeptical about this book when I first got it. It looked interesting but I thought it would be really dry. It starts off with basic orca biology and goes through the history of orca captures, early captivity and current captivity. The author interviewed the scientist in charge of marine mammal captivity at HSUS and former trainers. It definitely has an anti captivity bias but I think it comes at it from the correct angle. The incident with Dawn B was actually a very small p...more

"The Real Sea World" 

Brendon Schrodinger
'Death at Seaworld' is a fascinating and meticulously researched work that centres upon the death of a killer whale trainer at the U.S. theme park in 2010. However the work also takes on the entire history of the captivity of these whales, as well as research undertaken in the wild.
What you get to read may be argued as one-sided as it argues strictly against the captivity of killer whales, but with the evidence presented, there is no other conclusion that could be reached. It does essentially co...more

Just read it. Death at Seaworld deals with a subject I am very passionate about: whales and dolphins in captivity. Primarily orcas in this book. I've been against captive whales and dolphins for a lob time, an this book has just fuelled my passionate dislike about corporations such as Seaworld.
I could rant and rage about how they make these beautiful intelligent animals perform cheap circus tricks in order for their food, and how captivity is seriously detrimental to whales health: both physica...more

"Voice of the Orcas" 

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Remarkable Concluding Testimony of Former SeaWorld Animal Handler Cynthia Payne

Cynthia with manatees in 1994
Preface for PART TWO:  Cynthia Payne is a former SeaWorld animal care handler and current president of a company in North Carolina called Go Green, Inc, which she founded in 2007. She's lived in Holland & Germany and is an accomplished equestrian rider. After watching Blackfish, she reached out to us, at Voice of the Orcas, with this moving testimony. This is the rather shocking conclusion of her story. 

PART ONE IS HERE: Meet Cynthia Payne: Another former SeaWorld Staffer Comes Forward after Blackfish

Cynthia was employed by SeaWorld, in Orlando, from 1992 to 1994, and told us, "I truly, truly cared for the animals and admired several of the people I worked with and for, but I also recognized it was wrong." Cynthia adds her voice to ours, and to a growing number of former industry workers, and citizens, who are speaking out against companies who display intelligent, self-aware creatures for human amusement. We welcome her strong voice, and thanks again, Cynthia. 


I don’t believe in favorites, but Gudrun tugged at my heart.  She seemed to possess a sadness of the soul, unlike anything I had ever seen. Gudrun was named after the boat that captured her. I felt that this explained everything.  

She was known to us as, "The difficult whale."

Gudrun with her young daughter Taima. Gudrun was collected in 1976 & named after the ship that collected her. SeaWorld personnel were on that ship.  She was  traded from the Dolfinarium Harderwijk to SeaWorld (1987) on a breeding loan. She survived 19 years in captivity (7089 days) and died of "Bacteremia" after a stillborn calf was winced out of her uterus in1996.  Her daughter, Taima, died after 7635 days in captivity, at age 21, from "Acute Uterine Prolapse," in 2010. 

Gudrun gave birth to Nyar [on 12/31/1993] while [I was working] in the park. Nyar was sick and her own mother, Gudrun, tried to kill her. Standing in Shamu Stadium, one could feel the misery of Gudrun. Her calf, Nyar, had multiple health issues. We had to draw blood on a regular basis from this calf until she died at the early age of two [on 4/1/1996 of suppurative encephalitis, which is a pus infection of the brain. She lived 827 days in captivity]. 

Nyar’s tail flukes (the last time I assisted) looked like a heroin addict, tracks everywhere from the constant barrage of needles.

In animal care, we referred to severely injured dolphins and whales that could not right themselves in the water as a “beachies list” [animal]. This was Nyar, always listing in the water with her head tilted to one side. Nyar died at such a young age. Upon hearing the news, long gone from SeaWorld, again, I felt relief. 

However, Gudrun was not the only one to injure her own calf.

Movie Note: Nyar is in Blackfish. There is a segment where former trainer Dean Gomersall is being interviewed about a new show, and there is a screen within a screen. On the smaller screen, John Jett PhD is swimming in A pool, of Shamu Stadium, SWF, using an underwater prop-driven scooter device. The small whale in the footage is Nyar.

Gudrun was unique as her dorsal fin was remarkably straight. For reference, 100% of captive male orcas have collapsed fins, and most of the adult females. Her straight dorsal fin made her an ideal animal for photo opportunities (good PR). In her last gestational period, prior to her death (1995-1996) she was frequently slid up into the shallows so park guests could stroke her fin, and SeaWorld would then sell the photos back to the tourists. These extended 10-15 minute dry sessions likely lead to the death of her calf in February 1996. After the calf died, she did not pass it. This lead to the Animal Care department wincing out the dead baby using a chain around it's peduncle. This resulted in a prolonged bleed out and infection of Gudrun. She died 4 days later. Details of this can be found in David Kirby's book, Death at SeaWorld, which has entered its 3rd printing at the time of this article. 

There were other atrocities... the dolphin pool was and [still] is one; such a daily prison. In diving their pool, I was as immersed in stress as I was water. Both immediately surrounded you. 

Rake marks seemed to identify the dolphins more than their physical features. They simply did not have enough space for such an extensive number of dolphins in one pool. To this day, the original dolphin pool remains the size of some large swimming pools.

Two of us witnessed a female dolphin, drowning her newborn. Management refused to step in and the calf shortly died. To this day, I cannot make sense of that decision.

Smooshi (not Gwen) & Phil 
I felt as if I was committing horrific acts supporting such a place. I had questions over other deaths I had witnessed, such as the carnage of Gwen, a beautiful walrus. Gwen, fully pregnant at the time, was forced to drag herself across the concrete to a separate pen each night. It resulted in sepsis, or some infection, from scrapes through the skin, which killed her and the unborn calf. In other words, the death of a beautiful animal and her calf was a direct result of the complete stupidity of park executives. I was present at her necropsy and was dumbfounded at the pure loss of two beautiful lives. 

[Side note: Former trainer Jeffrey Ventre was working at Sea Lion & Otter Stadium when Gwen died, and this testimony is spot on. The decision to sleep Gwen in a dry, feces filled room, while she was pregnant, was baffling. The rationale was that Garfield, the male walrus, would somehow injure her, even though they got along fine, and would "spoon together" at night. Thus, the managers of Animal Training & Animal Care decided to sequester her, alone, in a small concrete enclosure with metal bars and concrete walls, to "protect the unborn calf." When she slid over the dry concrete it scraped her nipples, and this led to sepsis & death of both animals] 

All of the animals in the park seemed to pay a price. Two of my roommates in the aviculture department were incredibly upset for months as multiple penguins were lost on a regular basis due to equipment malfunctions and failures inside their exhibit.

It was not just the killer whales who displayed threatening behavior. My last swim interaction at SeaWorld was with Beachie and Cecil, two Atlantic Bottlenose male dolphins. 

1n 1994, former Animal Care Handler Cynthia Payne is seen swimming with Beachie & Cecil 

Two fellow keepers had to pull me from the pool as Beachie and Cecil refused to allow me to swim to the edge. On that day, their stress and frustration was as transparent as the water. It cemented any lingering doubts that I had made the right decision to leave SeaWorld.   The decision [was made] that these animals... do not belong in captivity... for the entertainment of humans.

The argument of rescue on SeaWorld's behalf is bullshit. I was there, I was a member of this rescue team. It does not and cannot justify ripping animals from their natural environment and family to entertain us for what will become their short-lived life.  Rescue by itself is justified and is an integral need, but it cannot be a platform to pull babies from their moms and tear families apart, such as the foundation SeaWorld was built upon. If anything, we were all very frustrated at the lack of rescues that were allowed due to “lack of funds.” So no, bullshit on that one…

Most importantly, facts and math don’t lie. [Mortality rates for captive killer whales are 2.5 times that of free ranging orcas]. 

And so I applaud all of you. What amazing heroic efforts on your part for the benefit and cause of these animals...  I had wanted to speak out for years but I felt as if I was speaking out against some of the best people I have known in my life. The Animal Care staff at SeaWorld of Florida houses some of the most talented and knowledgeable people I have ever known. However, the priorities of these animals must take place. It is to time to evolve into a world where killer whales and dolphins live where they belong, the open ocean.

The SeaWorld Animal Care Staff from 1994. 

I applaud your courage. Well done Jeff, John, Samantha and Carol, and to all of the amazing people in creating this movie... 


I hope this movie gives cause and support to Morgan, the killer whale wrongly being held at Loro Parque (which is supported by SeaWorld) and whom should be immediately returned to her family in the open ocean. She is a young killer whale with a true chance of survival.  To everyone joining in this important cause, YOU have the power to do great things and great things need to be done. Please stand for these animals and please take the time to sign Morgan’s petition. www.freemorgan.org

Cynthia Payne 
President, Go-Green 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Meet Cynthia Payne: Another former SeaWorld Staffer Comes Forward after Blackfish

Preface:  Cynthia Payne is a former SeaWorld animal care handler and current president of a company in North Carolina called Go Green, Inc, which she founded in 2007. She's lived in Holland & Germany and is an accomplished equestrian rider. After watching Blackfish, she reached out to us, at Voice of the Orcas, with this moving testimony, which we will publish in two parts. 

She was employed by SeaWorld, in Orlando, from 1992 to 1994, and told us, "I truly, truly cared for the animals and admired several of the people I worked with and for, but I also recognized it was wrong." Cynthia adds her voice to ours, and to a growing number of former industry workers, and citizens, who are speaking out against companies who display intelligent, self-aware creatures for human amusement. We welcome her strong voice to ours. Thank you, Cynthia!


Cynthia bottle feeds a small manatee as others surround her

"Over the course of three years and as an employee of the animal care department, SeaWorld of Florida, Orlando,  I witnessed the deaths and misery of several animals including that of [orca] Nootka’s stillborn calf."

[Below is Cynthia's story - unedited] 

During this time, I participated in “whale watch” [aka "night-watch"]; extra personnel to watch for the upcoming birth of Nootka’s calf. She seemed separated from all of the whales, her only apparent communication was through the gates. Touch, feel, social interaction is a critical component to a whale's life.  I remember so many nights of sitting up with her, listening to her cry at the gates.  I was young, 18-19 years of age. What did I know, I thought? But the doubts were amassing as to my remaining [employment] at SeaWorld.   

Cynthia on Night-watch at Shamu Stadium
On the night of her calf's birth, I was present, next to her pool on whale watch.  Nootka gave birth to a stillborn calf. 

The next few hours were a horror movie.

Staff members, everywhere, were giving orders and decided they must immediately remove the stillborn calf, thus refusing Nootka any time to grieve. 

Nootka fought and fought AND FOUGHT. She carried the stillborn calf repeatedly, trying to keep it at bay from the staff. 

Mercilessly, the staff seemed intent on the calf’s immediate removal. I turned to the vet on-site, almost in tears and I asked “Can't she have a moment to grieve?”  There was no debate, there was 'no time,' he stated. They needed to take the calf immediately.

The "Animal Care" Department at SeaWorld of Florida in 1994

This night replays over and over in my head, I can still hear her screams. 

The SeaWorld staff dropped a net the depth and width of the pool.  Nootka would try to pick up the net  and then at other times push her baby over it, all in an effort to escape this onslaught of people, everywhere, screaming orders and trying to take her calf away. Certainly, any mother would need, desire, require some time to grieve?

They gave her nothing. They took the stillborn. Nootka was forced into a holding pool, hardly enough space to turn around.

I sat with her that night on whale watch. I had witnessed everything. She cried through the night.  She cried and cried. I still hear her screams and I still wish I could have helped her. 

I sat in total disbelief at the events of that night. I was horrified... feeling as a participant, of any kind. She died shortly after this night. I was hopeful she was in a better place. This night replays as a vivid movie over and over again in my head with her screams and cries sounding just as sorrowful as they did that night .  I remember feeling sickened at my participation and then relief knowing… I was leaving SeaWorld.


We will publish part two, the conclusion of Cynthia's Testimony, in about one week. In that piece, she'll talk about orca Gudrun and her calf Nyar, two bottle nose dolphins, Beachie & Cecil (see photo below), as well as the tragic death of Gwen, the walrus.  

Cynthia with Cecil & Beachie, just prior to her quitting SeaWorld in December 1994