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.

Cynthia Payne 
President, Go-Green