4 of the Most Outrageous Things that Seaworld Trainers (and Cetaceans) Have to Deal With


     Cetacean training appeals especially to young people, and in my experience, to young girls who seem to be drawn in by its romanticized exterior. I used to want to be a dolphin trainer. I would watch the Seaworld shows and become so enthralled by the glamorous images that they left in my mind. Hugging and kissing killer whales and dolphins, who could resist? Now I know better, and upon digging deeper into the job requirements, I am very thankful that my childhood “dream” will never come true.

     The captivity industry’s “happy family” exterior leaves the audience clueless, and also confident that the animals are truly living fulfilling lives. Many walk away thinking that the trainers have the “best jobs in the world.” But behind the scenes is a different story. Let’s look at a few of the nastiest, down and dirty chores and risks, that are a part of the Seaworld trainer’s job:

1. The Hydration Hose.

     In the wild, cetaceans recieve most of their hydration from the live food they eat. But in captivity, they don’t eat live food, they eat frozen food with very little hydration. In turn, the animals are given supplemental hydration. This comes in the form of ice, jello, and in many

5 hours after her last meal, a dolphin gets a drink through the hydration hose.

cases, the hydration hose.

     The procedure begins 5 hours after the animal’s last meal, to prevent vomitting. Trainers must conditon the animals to accept the insertion of a tube down their throats. Water is then funneled through the tube and directly into the stomach. You can view the procedure here. 

    2. Tooth Drilling

     Cetaceans sometimes break and wear their teeth which exposes a hole in the tooth where the pulp is located. The exposed pulp can lead to infection. On very rare ocassions this happens in wild animals. But it most often occurs in captive whales who exhibit stereotypy and ritualistic behaviors linked to bad oral health. Behaviors like chewing on the steel gates, grinding their jaws, or picking paint off the bottom of pools. Paint picking was observed with Loro Parque orcas, but according to Seaworld’s own behavioral profiles Tuar has had issues with this:

“Tuar has exhibited extensive tooth rubbing…and has had his LL1-7 and RL1-7 drilled. Tuar has been seen on multiple ocassions picking at paint at the bottom of the pools.”

As you can tell this leads to cracked, chipped, and missing teeth. When the pulp is exposed, trainers must take a drill to the orcas teeth and remove the pulp in a modified pulpotomy. This is a painful procedure that is done without any form of pain relief or anesthesia.

The whales are conditioned to “accept” the noise, heat, vibration and obvious pain associated with drilling vertically through the tooth column and into the fleshy pulp below. Success is measured by blood spilling out of the hole, in which case it’s apparent the bore is complete.  – Former SeaWorld trainer

    You may have seen or heard of Seaworld promoting their great dental care by demonstrating tooth flushes to the public. This is something that is presented as though it is an orca’s version of teeth brushing. In truth, these flushes are done to remove any food that could enter into the holes left by these modified pulpotomies. Not only have orcas undergone tooth drillings, they also have their teeth filed down, or pulled, as in the case with Kalina who has had 4 teeth pulled out. You can learn more about this topic here.

3. Semen Collecting and Artificial Insemination

     It’s no secret that Seaworld has a breeding program with dolphins, whales and many other

Trainers fight against a whale's fluke thrusts as they masturbate him.

animals. This method came as a result of wild capture becoming illegal. The breeding program can bring up cheery images in the minds of Seaworld supporters: baby dolphins and rambunctious killer whales. But nobody seems to think of the dirty details.

    Seaworld’s stud cetaceans are trained to present their genitials to trainers who then procede to masturbate them and capture the ejaculate. The animals are well rewarded for this

A female whale is artificially insemiated.

behavior and become prized sperm banks for the corporation. You can learn more about the male’s role in artificial insemination here.

    On the female side of things, trainers will keep a close eye on the female’s hormone levels by collecting urine and conducting ultrasounds to determine when she ovulates. When the time comes, trainers put a tube into the vagina and insert a camera so that they can see what they’re doing. The semen gets put directly into the womb. Several of Seaworld’s female orcas have been insemiated multiple times but to no avail. Only a couple of orcas have been born via artificial insemination. You can learn more about female insemination here. Some people may say that this is no big deal, after all, livestock, farm animals, and pets undergo this procedure too. Okay, so you are comparing wild animals to farm animals and pets? Also keep in mind that these animals are manually masturbated by human beings. In terms of livestock and pets, the animals are given fake mounts, or even real mates to have sex with, while a human handler simply catches the ejaculate. This is not the case for captive cetaceans. In addition, AI has no purpose for cetaceans except to breed the next generation of performing animal. It is not as though they are doing something good like replenishing wild populations. AI has hardly been seen to be successful.

4. Aggression

     In 2010, Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by a killer whale. Some people hear of these incidents and think that it is totally outside of the orca’s friendly and easy-going nature. They may believe that it was a freak accident. In truth, trainers are put in harms way everytime they get close to a killer whale. In the spotlight, trainers baby talk the adorable killer whales and treat them like cuddly puppies. Captivity supporters often begin to feel a sense of comfort about their favorite whales…but what is not seen in the spotlight is certainly shocking.

An injured trainer is wheeled out of Shamu Stadium on a stretcher.

   Nearly every killer whale at Seaworld, has experienced at least one behavioral incident. These can range from the seemingly harmless like “mouthing” heads, legs, torsos, etc. to the outright terrifying, like dunking and holding trainers underwater, lunging at them, swimming over top of them, or dragging them into the pools. Even an adorable youngster like Tuar has chomped down on trainers arms and refused to let go. (This all according to Seaworld’s own whale profiles viewed here.)

    The aggression doesn’t stop with trainers. A natural pod of animals consists of families with members born into their position in the group. Animals at Seaworlds and similar marine facilities are thrust into unnatural situations where they must create their own “pod.” In spite

Corky attacked and bleeding on Shamu Cam.

of Seaworld’s pushing the image of the happy family, it appears that any attempt to integrate into a pod-like social structure by the whales, has all but failed. Cetaceans in captivity are continuously raked, chased, and bullied by each other. (You may click the link above to learn more about the whales relationships with each other.)

    To top it all off a survey was conducted in 2004 which questioned marine mammal trainers, researchers, and caretakers. The survey found that 52% of the 482 people solicited had experienced traumatic injuries sustained by marine mammals. 36% of those were described as being “severe.” And 23% of respondants said that they had gotten skin rashes from working in close contact with these animals.

   Not only are Seaworld trainers constantly put into harms way, there are issues in the area of wages, benefits and security that make the job far from worthwhile. (You can learn more about the exploitation of the trainers here.) 

    Many aspiring trainers select their favorite whales that they want to work with someday, but few know the actual backgrounds of the animals. Including their likes, and dislikes, and whether or not they have been involved in minor or major aggressive incidents (chances are, they have). When you look at the animal profiles, and view the facts, it is difficult to determine why people would choose this job in such a pointless industry. It is very clear that the animals aren’t the only ones that the corporation finds easy to prey on, the trainers are exploited too!

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10 thoughts on “4 of the Most Outrageous Things that Seaworld Trainers (and Cetaceans) Have to Deal With

  1. I’ve tried to read as much as I can on the topic, viewing films, reading comments from those who actually experience. I can only think that the public needs to know, I believe that will result in staying away from SeaWorld parks until they end the shows and free the animals. We have all been lied to, when a serious injury of death occurs to a trainer the story is either the trainer feel in and drowned or make some mistake, (wearing a pony tail or not whistling loud enough to poor cooperation with spotters). Killer Whales aren’t meant for captivity hence early deaths, anger, health problems, flopped dorsal fin, injuring and killers trainers. Let’s end this now!

  2. That post is educational and all, but i don’t get it, how is it different if you use artificial insemination in wild or domesticated animals? In any case you rape an animal for easier production and more money.

    • Id assume because WILD animals are more aggressive than domesticated animals??….

      How can a human touch a whale dick. Just……………… no.
      When I first read about this I guess I was too shocked to have an opinion. Now I just feel like crying.. :((

      • You do understand that this technique is used for a ton of animals. Horses are bred EXACTLY like this so we can get two horses with random genetics to produce a horse to what ever our leisure is ( Maybe we want it to be fast. tall, whatever.) But either way, we do not pay attention to the recessive/dominant genes or their genetic history.

        We do this to elephants and many hoofed animals such as cattle, goats…. we “exploit” animals all the time but because their domesticated or not in the spotlight then suddenly it’s okay. Focus on the big picture – animals that are horribly mutated from plain citizens believing they are doing the right thing instead of a corporation that promotes animal activism to the public, saves thousands of animals, and inspires people to care just because their highly genetically monitored program is in place ( Seaworld is not the only one doing such a thing either, other sea-related parks do too.)

  3. Why is there a need for ANY amount of “entertainment” facility??? That’s not why they are here on this planet – to amuse us! Bless this blog and information – the public needs to KNOW THE TRUTH… not ignore it so they can still swim with dolphins or see the whales. Continue your great work! I will continue to share with everyone I ever cross paths with – and pubicly shame anyone who continues to go to these establishments.

  4. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy I found this during my search for something concerning this.

  5. Very nice summary. All of the nasty underbelly of the captivity beast must be exposed to the same degree that the “dolphin smile” or the “orca splash” is today. Thank you!

  6. Very honest and upfront, I would wish that they would use an ‘open’ entertainment facility, one that is accessible to the creatures from the sea and is in no way used to capture them or put them into tanks. They can use their natural environment to interact with them, And train them using only those measure that guarantee that these animals are free to accept human friendship or reject it. Those that keep coming back for human interaction and are okay with them can then be id’s and trained as well as allowed to stay with their pod. I’d analogize it as if they are humans, this is a place next to sea which is open and has an arena for them to come and interact with humans as well as if they choose to, entertain them as well. If they do it right, I don’t see why these creatures couldn’t be useful as well as willing a partner to it. These are the stars of the show, they should be treated as such. Just as humans are able to be free, so should they be allowed to choose and to be able to come and go as they please. Otherwise, just let them be, this is their domain, and it is far bigger than that of humans.

  7. Pingback: 4 of the Most Outrageous Things that Seaworld Trainers (and Cetaceans) Have to Deal With « Kirsten Writes

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