Monday, May 8, 2017

Human & Non-Human Deaths at SeaWorld

On Christmas Eve 2009 the SeaWorld orca Keto killed trainer Alexis Martinez. The two were practicing "stand-on spy-hops" for a show. Keto became frustrated when two high-energy but imperfect stand-ons were not bridged & rewarded by the lead trainer on stage, a supervisor from SeaWorld of California. The frustrated Keto took it out on Alexis, crushing his ribs & driving him to the bottom of the concrete pool. 

60 days later the SeaWorld orca Tilikum brutalized Dawn Brancheau, his third victim; except on this occasion he pulled her from a shallow ledge. All three of Tilikum's victims were dragged into the the water by an arm or leg, based on witness reports, video & forensic evidence. Why waterwork was not halted corporate-wide after Alexis' death remains a mystery, but in this case SeaWorld put profits over safety. 

The human tragedies, also including Keltie Byrne & Daniel Dukes, have been described by journalists including Tim Zimmermann and Elizabeth Batt, and they've also been immortalized in the documentary Blackfish, as well as in David Kirby's book Death at SeaWorld

Note: There remains volumes of unreported material on these human tragedies, the OSHA trial, the cover ups, the 27 minute delay in calling the Orange County Florida Sheriff, the gag orders, the misinformation; enough for many more books, articles, dissertations, or films. 

Click HERE to read this article

While tragic, these stories focus on the loss of human life, with less attention given to the suffering experienced by all captive marine mammals who are forced to live and be on display until death. We advocate for seaside sanctuaries as retirement areas for currently captive cetaceans. Read about the Whale Sanctuary Project, here

So what happens to the whales when they die at SeaWorld? The industry has been effective at keeping details away from the public, mainly by lobbying lawmakers to pen or amend laws that allow them to NOT publish necropsy reports & other health or welfare data. The industry realizes that more transparency translates into public outrage & lower stock prices. Below are 5 videos and a testimonial that describe the death process at SeaWorld, but for whales, not humans.  

Video one: Ex SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg describes the death of the false killer whale known as "Zori." 

Video two: Ex SeaWorld trainer Dean Gomersall describes the death of the orca Kanduke

Video three: Excerpt from the Blue Freedom Film, Voiceless. Please go to minute 12:00 to hear Dr John Jett describe how killer whales are "disposed of" at SeaWorld 

Video Four with journalist Elizabeth Batt: Go to 4:20 to learn how the orca "Splash" died with "Hundreds of pounds of sand in his stomach." 

Video Five: At the end of the BBC radio interview with Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, he describes what happened with blackfish Tilikum 


More Death at SeaWorld 

Preface: Cynthia Payne is a former SeaWorld animal care handler and 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 originally published, here.

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. 


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.