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 


  1. I remember Cynthia, but she left shortly after I transferred to the Animal Care dept at the Fl park.

    I can testify for every word she says, and I can offer even more.
    The dolphin who drowned her calf was allowed to become pregnant again and was being held in the Nursery pool (former petting/feeding pool after dolphin cove was built) When it became apparent she was close to giving birth, and they had no intention of assigning people to do a 24 hr watch on her, I protested big time. ( I ultimately paid for protesting a lot of things) They assigned only one person and sure enough, she had the baby, and drowned that one too.
    At the TX park, I witnessed Samoa, a female Orca, stop swimming and sink to the bottom of the pool, dead, after the flukes of calf she was carrying (dead for no one knows how long) were out for hours, with necrotic tissue being discharged from Samoa's uterus. We knew the calf was dead, but when Samoa suddenly died and sank to the bottom, it was horrifying. Kahana, died "mysteriously" , going into death throws and hitting the concrete walls in the tank over night. No one was there to see exactly what happened. That was when a 24 hr watch on the whales at all times was put into place. Kotar,the park's breeding male before Tili, suffered from one tooth infection after another, from biting on the metal gates in the stadium and breaking his teeth. Most of the whales had/have tooth issues because of this. He finally died unexpectedly on the evening of my last day employed with the TX park. Nootka, one of the females who were purchased from Sealand of the Pacific, with Tili, died from bleeding to death after her calf had to be pulled, forcibly, out of her uterus.
    The night the park guest was killed by Tilikum, a calf had just been born, and there should have been at least 4 people doing watch. There is no way all of that could have happened without being noticed if everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing. Having a park operations employee, who was cleaning up trash in the stadium, find the body draped over the whale, is either a lie, or, people were not doing their jobs.
    As for the rescue progam..Some were saved and released, but if it didn't bring in money, it was not considered valuable by the management.
    We rescued a Risso's dolphin in TX and worked day and night to bring that little guy (Turbo) up to healthy status. They moved her to the whale and dolphin stadium, gave her several types of psychotropic drugs, and she died within hours of receiving the drugs. The use of psychotropic drugs was NOT uncommon. When the Vet. (Les Dalton) got the call saying she had died, his response was, "well, we got rid of that problem, didn't we".
    The stories go on and on.
    I really did believe I could make a difference, but Corporations are only going to do what makes money, not what is in the best interest of the animals or the employees. When anyone speaks out against what is happening, they don't last very long. One of my supervisors in Fl, warned me they were gunning for me, but I couldn't just shut up and not speak out.
    I was employed with SeaWorld for 10 yrs (and working elephants at a zoo for 6 yrs prior.) I found all kinds of ways to justify not only keeping animals in captivity, but also, my part in it through employment. The truth is, there is no justification for keeping any animal in captivity. All of the crap I was told to say or came up with, was just that, CRAP!

    1. KJ, that is remarkable testimony. We may need to run another piece with your stories, only if you want. The Daniel Dukes stuff, as we talked about in the movie, is right on the money. Are you and Cynthia in email contact?

    2. Hi KJ, this is from Cynthia Payne in response to what you wrote:

      Hey KJ,

      I am heartbroken to hear she drowned another calf. The nursery pool was such and is such a prison, awful.

      Would love to talk....

      Jeff Ventre has my contact info.

      I read testimony that the pseudorcas died in similar fashion (the thrashing and slamming their heads into the horrific)

      One of the largest eye openers for me personally, on top of everything I had witnessed, was to hear the stories of having to drill the killer whales teeth. It must be a daily torture for these animals. I was totally unaware food was withheld from the killer whales (or any animals) in an effort to insure they would perform.

      I initially started in Education. We were so guarded on what we could and could not say... it was required that we state to all guests "food was never withheld in an effort to make an animal perform" What a crock of sh***!!!

      So glad to hear your side. Although, so heartbroken to know she drowned her second calf. I have never admitted prior, although I have always wondered, (especially for Gudrun), if they thought they were doing their babies a favor, saving them from a life of such misery. Thank you again, Cynthia

      I don't want to put Cynthia's email here but you are welcome to email me at and I will pass her contact info along to you.

      Thanks again!

    3. Hi Sam,
      I will send an email with my contact info. I would be very happy to talk.
      Thanks again

  2. Thank you so much Cynthia and Voice of the Orcas for having the courage to tell the truth about cetacean & marine mammal captivity.

    It's time for the animals for entertainment shows to end, and it's people like you who have pushed this issue to the forefront of both animal rights and nonhuman rights movements. Gratitude always for your powerful voices!

  3. Cynthia - thanks for speaking up! The world needs to know what life is really like for the animals at SeaWorld.

    And KJ, thank you for offering even more information. The more we know, the worse it gets! Given its history of animal abuse, the only reason the captive marine mammal entertainment industry is still in existence in its current form is because very few people have been willing to step out in public to challenge industry practices and speak the truth for fear of retribution. But that is clearly changing! There's strength in numbers, and I believe your words and Cynthia's words will inspire others to come forward as well. Way to go!

  4. Thanks to Cynthia & KJ for offering even more insight into the horror that is SeaWorld and the captivity industry. Thank you to the Voice of the Orcas for publishing all of this information. Thanks to everyone involved in Blackfish, thanks to David Kirby for DASW. I am going to see Blackfish for the second time tomorrow. It is past time for this to end.

    1. Lisa, thanx to you. I've seen Blackfish a few times, now, and continue to learn more each time. Hope you get as much out of it the second time (I did). Yes, thanx to DK, Gabriela & everyone involved in the Animal Justice movement. Great progress is being made at this time. Thx to KJ & Cynthia for speaking out today!

  5. Thanks Cynthia and KJ. KJ, I hope we can get your experiences circulated as well. You two have powerful insight. The public needs to know.

  6. Thank you both Cynthia and KJ for coming forward with this information. I had never been to a SeaWorld park before viewing Blackfish as it didn't seem right to me that these magnificent, intelligent animals should perform common tricks for our entertainment. Seeing the movie and reading your testimonies has given me more reason not to do so. I can imagine how heartbreaking it was to witness these atrocities and the fear of what would happen if you tried to come forward with this information. Please keep informing people and I will do my part to do the same. It's time for these horror stories to end

  7. Thank you for your courage to speak out, the animals need a voice!

  8. First off SAMOA was NEVER in a seaworld park, Haida 2 was, Gudrun was the one who had to have the calf pulled out, not nootka, she wasnt even pregnant in time of her death, Haida 2 was. Alot of mis-information posted on here. Great job KJ for proving the point of those who are for captivity.

    1. Samoa was at a SeaWorld park, she was transferred to Ohio in 1989 and then moved to Texas in October 1990, while Kalina went to California. Just because Nootka wasn't the orca who had the calf pulled (if she didn't) doesn't make it right that it happened to Gudrun. Nootka had a stillborn calf 26 days before her death, and I read on Cetaceans Cousins that the cause of death was Stillbirth Complications. And Haida 2 was not the only pregnant female to die- aside from Belen and Maggie, every female who died due to pregnancy or possibly due to stillbirth complications, died at SeaWorld. Kona 2, Kenau, and Haida 2 died during their pregnancy at SeaWorld, while Samoa, Nootka 4, Gudrun, and Taima died of stillbirth complications, proving breeding program issues. Also so many calves are stillborn or miscarried, etc. etc. etc.

  9. Actually, Mr Markus, Samoa WAS held in TX and died exactly as K.J. described.
    As for the confusion between Gudrun and Nootka, I suppose there are just TOO many deaths to keep up with. Regardless, they both died , right? Is that your Proof of the point for THOSE FOR captivity?
    Also,"KY","Haida's" calf,( who was born at Sealand, AFTER Nootka's calf Died,) just prior to their transport to the TX park, sat vertical in the pool, all night, banging his melon on the wall! The entire night he banged his head on the wall! Normal? I am certain that Orcas do not bang their heads on concrete walls in their natural environment. Maybe you should go back, and dig through whatever info you may or may not have found and GET YOUR Mis-information corrected, eh?
    I am not in this fight, but, if YOU ARE, it would be a good idea to get your information correct before you go smashing someone elses

  10. Oh, and for the record (literally)

  11. come and enjoy the dolphins in the wild with and sea how happy they are in the wild :)
    btw a few weeks ago we saw 3 orca's and 1 jumped out completely...omg

  12. Is it possible that dolphins have a much high level of consciousness than we realize and that this dolphin made a purposeful decision to drown both of her newborns rather than have them live a life of torture in a prison pool?

  13. I really don't have much to add, except to say thank you on behalf of the whales & dolphins. I just hope more people hear these stories and see the images/movies and realize what a horror we put the animals through in the name of "entertainment" or worse: "education." I have never doubted, in my entire life, that cetaceans are more intelligent and more evolved than humans, and we make their lives a horror.

    And just in case this gets posted as "anonymous" please know I am known in the vegan blogosphere as "The Valley Vegan" at -- I just HATE being labeled anonymous when I am proud to give my contact info when it comes to speaking out for animals.

  14. Seaworld are and always have been underhanded liars. People should have realised from day 1 when they called them all Shamu, so if one died it could be replaced with another without anyone knowing. Not only at Seaworld though, Hugo banged his head off the walls and killed himself leaving poor Lolita alone. Seaworld stopped waterworks back in 1987 as it wasn't the first time the trainers were at risk, all the top execs were sacked, they are distancing themselves from Keto over in Loro Parque who also killed his trainer pretty much as Tilikum did, he is still Seaworld's orca though supposedly over there on breeding loan and they are trying to get him to breed with poor Morgan. They care about nothing other than how much money comes through the gate.

  15. I actually saw Gudrun when she was still in Harderwijk in the Mid eighties. I was a kid, not even ten years old but I already had something of "How does an animal that big fit into a pool that small?"

    Gudrun was beautiful, a very sleek graceful, creature, and mischievous, she would spit water at the people who passed her tank and when the bottle nose Dophins would do their routine of singing to the audience Gudrun would "sing" along at the top of her lungs, quite a bit louder than any of the bottle nose dolphins would muster.

    In my teens I became a Greenpeace supporter and thus learned in what way marine zoos get their Dolphins and how it actually was much worse than the whaling I was so opposed to. "Blackfish" shows how Orca are captured but "The Cove" shows how Bottle Nose dolphins are captured, they single out the good looking animals and slaughter the rest of the pod, it's heart breaking.

    I got in contact with fellow whale enthusiasts and we were talking about why captive Orca have bending dorsal fins. In one article it was argued that it was because of the animals coming from a particular pod where it was genetic, showing a picture of a wild animal with a bent fin. But when actually looking it up we found out that a very little percentage of the wild orca population actually has bent fins.

    I then came across a documentary shot in the seventies about Bottle nose dolphins where one scientist attached a transmitter by drilling it through one dolphin's dorsal fin assuming it to be hardened skin. And finding out that that was not the case, the dorsal fins of all dolphin species is made from flesh and blood.

    So then I argued with my fellow dolphin enthusiasts that if the dorsal fin of an Orca is no different from the ones that bottle nose Dolphins have, it is basically the lack of movement and the lack of exercise which makes captive Orca go obese but the fat accumulates in their fins and flukes resulting in them bending over.

    I noticed that with Kanduke, the Orca bull who was Taima's father, that in addition to his dorsal fin bending over, the tips of his flukes were curled inward, as was the case with Keiko and Tilikum. Can you guys confirm the theory we have here that a bending dorsal fin is the Orca equivalent of a pot belly?

    So why was Gudrun's dorsal fin remarkably straight? She had spunk, she was a punk-rock Orca, a trouble maker, always up to no good, actively doing the routines with the bottle nose dolphins from the sidelines in her holding pool but in doing so kept herself fit, swam instead of lying motionless at the surface of her pool. I know, I saw it.

    I recently went to Harderwijk and the Bottle nose Dolphins now have a far bigger outdoors facility in which they are housed. But I didn't fail to notice that they had bite marks and scars all over their bodies.

    I will never forget Gudrun though, how could I? She stole my heart that day in 1985 when I saw her. Poetry in motion, that was what she was. A caged queen. I kept that plushy Orca I got that day a very long time until many years later when I gave it away to my then girlfriend. I'd rather remember Gudrun as how I saw her back then than through a plushy Orca toy.

  16. Dorsal fin collapse is a multi-factorial by-product of captivity. The orca are in a very shallow column of water with their fins & backs exposed to the hot sun much more in captivity than in the ocean. Here is the best explanation of dorsal fin collapse:

  17. I applaud you all for your courage with coming forward. This is such important information that the public needs to know! I hope more employees speak out, it's time this hell hole changes its business model and starts educating on the harms of captivity! SeaWorld will stop at nothing to protect their profits, it's sickening, and all at the expense of the animals they claim to "care" so much about. You people are amazing! Keep speaking!

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