Is the Orca-Trainer Bond Required for Waterworks?

     Is a mutual bond between animal and human required for waterworks? Captivity supporters often tout the trainer-orca bond. The common argument they use to back this up, is that such a large, dangerous animal won’t let just anyone get in the water with them; only trainers that have spent years building up that trust and relationship with the animals. Of course this is usually followed by some sort of comment seeping with  emotionalism, for instance: “The trainers believe in their bond. Waterworks is a

Hugging and kissing isn't evidence of a "bond." To the animal it is simply a response to a hand signal.

miracle!” But who can blame the captivity supporters for this statement? Seaworld’s orca shows (especially, “Believe”) are one big play on emotions. The tricks displayed focused on kissing the whales, hugging them, even dancing with them, with a commentary about believing and following your heart. Through scripted displays of humans treating whales as though they were also humans, Seaworld encourages the audience to anthropomorphize the animals. So, you can hardly blame a captivity supporter when they claim that there is a “bond” between orca and trainer. (In my post “The Deceptive Orca-Trainer Bond” I address how this “bond” is not mutual but based on the manipulation of the animals.)  Doesn’t there need to be a great amount of trust between orca and trainer before waterworks is even attempted? 

    To answer such questions, it would be fair to ask: how much time passes between getting hired as an orca trainer at Seaworld, and actually getting into the water with the killer whales? How long does it take to form this miraculous bond? According to Seaworld’s  website here, the answer is 4 years, from apprenticeship, to waterworks. According to this Seaworld video, the answer is 2 years. After that it takes 4 years for trainers to go from basic waterworks, to advanced waterworks. According to this video the answer is 2 months. If you clicked on that link you’d also notice something strange. I suggest you give it a watch…

     That’s right, after 2 days, this TV journalist got into the water with Corky and did waterworks with her like a pro! Not only does he do waterworks (which, according to Seaworld and captivity supporters, is supposed to take years of relationship building) but he hugs her, and kisses her. It is amusing when captivity supporters present pictures of trainers hugging the animals and then say “that looks like a bond to me!” when this TV

It supposedly takes years for trainers to form a trusting bond with a killer whale. But what takes years of experience for animal trainers, for celebrities, only takes a bit of money.

 journalist walks into Seaworld and 2 days later is working with the animals as though he is just one of the trainers. Can these actions be called evidence of an “orca-trainer bond?” Considering the fact that even audience members are oftentimes invited to kiss and hug the whales, and celebrities who pay up can have an orca experience, I don’t think so. They are just responses to hand signals of course, and to our anthropomorphizing eyes, even a TV journalist can look like he’s spend years building up a mutual bond with Corky. 

   I can’t help but feel disappointed for the trainer named Holly, who didn’t get to swim with a whale until she had spent 2 years working with one of them. And all of the other trainers who were forbidden from entering the water with the whales … while this guy rolls up at Seaworld and hops into the tank. I also can’t help but feel as though there is a reason why the journalist reported that the gap between apprenticeship and waterworks was a mere 2 months, when Seaworld’s own website says that it actually takes 4 years or more.

     You may have noticed that the video says Seaworld hasn’t allowed an amateur to enter the pool with a killer whale for 21 years (probably due to safety issues,) which leads to another question: how much money did this guy (or the news channel) dish out for this experience?! “Such large, dangerous animals wouldn’t let just anyone swim with them! It takes years of relationship-building and mutual trust to make waterworks happen.” I’m afraid this, and similar statements, are simply ridiculous.

    As a side note, some rumors of orca pregnancies have been confirmed to be true. To my knowledge there has been confirmation from Loro Parque that young Kohana, who rejected her first calf, is indeed pregnant and due in September with her second calf.


9 thoughts on “Is the Orca-Trainer Bond Required for Waterworks?

  1. I think you are totally wrong its a proven fact that there is a bond between trainers and their whales lets take for ex Keiko he was sent on a 16 hour flight and he wouldn’t have stayed that calm if he hadn’t had his trainers with him on the plane. When they went out during refueling he started crying and moving wildly. When the trainers had to leave after he was brought to the new aquarium he was really confused and depressive. SeaWorld just sometimes has to move whales due to pod structure problems or breeding programs. I think its awful to ascribe manipulation to the trainers. They’re working so hard and lidolizing the animals so intensely and then they have to handle lies an suspicions like that… This text makes me so angry and desperate and it also hurts that there’s almost no chance to make anyone believe or see the truth because there always will be persons trying to find some illusions that destroy beautiful moments and hopes forever… Thanks a lot…

    • Do you have evidence for these claims? How many trainers do you think come in and out of these orca’s lives?
      Also, I never said that the orca and trainers do not have a “bond,” (even if it is one-sided) I said that this bond is definitely NOT required for the trainers to do waterworks with the animals. If you read this post, you would see why. Also, I’m not buying your play on emotions.

  2. Holly, I’ve read the SeaWorld profiles and I’m sure that Jaime has too.
    If orcas in captivity respond negatively to interactions with strangers, then why are strangers allowed to interact with the whales at SeaWorld? After all, many of the park’s guests are free to interact with the whales in the underwater viewing area before and after shows. Also, a child is usually pulled from the audience during the Shamu show and has the opportunity to get up close to the whale, touch the whale, feed the whale, etc. Celebrities also dish out big bucks to be able to have an up-close and personal experience with the animals. Hugging them, kissing them, touching them, feeding them, etc. If these interactions are truly stressful on the animal, then why is SeaWorld allowing it?
    If orcas in captivity become aggressive towards new trainers, then why does SeaWorld allow new trainers in the water with the animals? Jaime posted a great video of a news reporter jumping in the water after only 2 days. And what about trainers being switched around? There are about 2 dozen SeaWorld trainers employed at each park. Why would you assume that by switching trainers around that a whale becomes uninterested? There isn’t one trainer per whale. Another valid point is that these animals are traded and sold (seemingly as commodities) across the country and world. Keet has been moved 5 times in his short life. If switching trainers and new trainers are causing stress on the animals, then why is SeaWorld allowing it?

  3. The bond is actually quite important. If you read the SW orca profiles (available on the internet) it states quite clearly that most of the whales respond negatively to interaction with strangers and waterworks with newer trainers. They become uninterested and occaisionally agressive. Also switching trainers around without reinforcing them causes them to become uninterested and distressed. Most of the whales only accept waterworks with a trainer they are used to, and if anyone else touches that trainer during the session they become agitated. Link here:

  4. i found this blog through Enviromint’s nomination for the versatile bloggers award and would just like to say how fascinating i found this post. As a child i always loved the sea and the amazing animals which inhabit it and i have to say i find it so distressing when whales and dolphins are kept in captivity, especially when justified with this belief that of bonds between them and the humans. will definitely be following your blog from now on. thank you

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