Recent Photos Show Trainers Swimming with Orcas at SeaWorld San Diego


September 2012, a news helicopter captured video of trainers hugging and petting killer whales on pool ledges at SeaWorld Orlando behind-the-scenes and during a show. Such close proximity violates a ruling made by Judge Welsch last summer which requires that trainers be separated from whales via physical barriers; a ruling that SeaWorld is currently fighting to appeal in federal court.

This video footage may have helped launch the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s follow-up investigation of SeaWorld Orlando, which aims to determine whether or not they are following court orders to abate the hazards in the park. One component of this follow-up investigation is SeaWorld’s responsibility to provide witnesses which must prove that the hazards are abated. So far, SeaWorld has refused to provide witnesses and as a result, OSHA is launching another suit to force them to comply. All that is known about the latest investigation into the park’s safety practices so far, is that OSHA inspectors have found more unsafe working conditions.

Yesterday, a photo was published on Facebook, depicting a trainer swimming with a whale behind the scenes at SeaWorld San Diego. So far the photo has been linked on Tumblr and has generated a lot of attention as it makes its rounds. The whale in the photo has been identified as Orkid, an extremely dangerous animal that has been banned from waterworks since 2006 due to her aggressive tendencies, though in 2008, SeaWorld attempted to train her for waterwork again. Orkid’s official profile lists 14 different behavioral incidents between 1990 and 2007. These incidents range from biting trainers to multiple instances of dunking and holding trainers underwater.

The photographer claimed that the photo was taken on 1/6/13 while on a sky-walk overlooking the pool, and that the trainers were riding on the back of Orkid, perhaps as part of waterworks desense training. Another photo taken by an anonymous photographer also surfaced, showing a similar scene from a different angle, this time a trainer is in a medical pool with Keet. There are rumors that the photos may be paired with video, though no footage has so far been published.

The question many people are asking is whether or not SeaWorld runs a risk by allowing trainers in the water at San Diego, even though  Judge Welsch’s ruling appears to only apply to SeaWorld Orlando, and allows for behind-the-scenes husbandry procedures. The short answer to this question is: yes.

In 2006, Cal OSHA investigated SeaWorld San Diego after a trainer was attacked by a killer whale. This investigation was discussed in court during the SeaWorld Orlando hearing and influenced the Judge’s final verdict in regards to whether or not SeaWorld willfully put their trainers in danger. For SeaWorld to begin waterworks in San Diego, while it is legally restricted due to its dangerous nature in Orlando, reflects the Corporation’s attitude toward trainer safety overall, which could come back to bite them when they face OSHA again in court.

Outside Magazine has also addressed the issue of liability in allowing trainers to resume waterworks in one park, while it is banned in another: “…since Brancheau’s death, SeaWorld has ceased waterwork at all its parks. Therefore Welsch’s rejection of SeaWorld’s appeal is likely to shape how all SeaWorld’s parks operate in the future, especially given the liability considerations that would come into play if SeaWorld resumed waterwork in San Diego or San Antonio following Welsch’s ruling in Florida, and another trainer was injured or killed.” 

The past few months SeaWorld has been walking a fine line with the government regarding its safety protocols, some claim they are flaunting the Judge’s ruling and are still putting trainers at risk. SeaWorld is already on OSHA’s radar, and the publication of these photos could potentially spell trouble for them if they permitted the trainers to ride Orkid. If they did not permit the trainers to do this, the employees depicted in the photo could suffer severe repercussions. The response to these photos from captivity supporters is overwhelmingly positive. Reactions are of celebration for the long-awaited return of waterworks. But what about the trainer’s safety? There have been no attacks, injuries, and certainly no deaths in the three years that waterworks has been banned. Regardless of what the law says about waterwork stunts, the photos raise questions as to why the trainer’s lives are needlessly put in danger through these unnecessary practices.


23 thoughts on “Recent Photos Show Trainers Swimming with Orcas at SeaWorld San Diego

  1. I get OSHA’s concern, I truly do. But what about those poor whales who have bonded with their trainers and are missing the interaction?? Imagine how confused they are. I don’t think having these animals in captivity is right by any means, but the whales that are currently in captivity now are DEPENDANT on humans, and they will be for the rest of their lives, and all of a sudden, they can’t interact physically with them. Everyone knows, these are very social creatures. How do they feel not having their human companions? And how safe is it NOT to interact with these animals physically?? Think about It……trainers showing these animals love and affection, in my opinion, is SAFER than not….

  2. For all you ignorant fucktards, the orcas CANNOT be sent out to the wild because they aren’t used to it, may of the orcas have been born in seaworld so are unsure how to survive without us, don’t anyone remember when keiko was realeased? He died soon later.
    The whales also cannot be put in seapens either, they’re not used to current changes and the water temperature going up and down.

    • Keiko was put in a sea pen and he wasn’t used to current changes or water temperature fluctuations, as have been many, many other cetaceans. These are things that one can easily become used to within a couple days/weeks. It’s not going to kill the whales to experience currents or temperatures at slight variations…

  3. No surprises really. Have to guess SeaWorld think it’s above the law, and likes to play God. Too bad the Orcas have to suffer at the hands of these types of humans. From what i have seen of the rising floor concept, i guess the idea is to retrieve trainer bodies faster. What affect will this have on the Orcas, being lifted out the water – it can’t do them a lot of good. One has to assume SeaWorld will spend as much ca$h as is required to pull as many strings as possible, in order to get trainers back on public display and splashing about with aggravated captive Orcas. It don’t take a genius to work out the consequences: more dead trainers.

  4. What freaking planet are you from? Watch Blackfish and listen to the actual trainers of Seaworld talk about how these animals are deprived of food, often injured due to being placed with other agressive whales and how they have died in captivity, and about how they are crammed into small enclosures. If you are a true lover of Orcas, you will watch this documentary and you would be singing a petition to stop their capture and put an end to their suffering. Its repulsive and it is not their fault, it is mankinds fault. I will never support Seaworld. Ask them about the whale that bled to death ramming another whale. They just watched because it had a broken jaw. You would be heartbroken. Captivity of a wild animal is not cute and not love. You need to grow up.

  5. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to put human beings in the water with an animal that is an apex predator. This is an animal that is capable of taking down a great white shark for crying out loud!

      • Well, you already know I want to train orcas. A huge part of my dream is swimming with them, even though it can be dangerous. They are just mostly so gentle… I own the DVD of Believe and every time I see the trainer(Holly) doing waterwork for the first time, I get goose bumps. People on Tim Zimmerman’s blog are pretty much telling me I’m stupid for being happy about this… but you have to take risks. Otherwise you will just be sitting around terrified all your life.

        BTW, I’m hoping I can start a SeaWorld blog. If I do, you’re welcome to follow it!

        • Taking risks is fine, but waterworks is an unnecessary risk, and offers no worthwhile benefits. Its purpose is largely for entertainment and while it may be an emotional experience for the trainers and the fans, how do the whales benefit from a trainer standing on their backs? It is actually less of a risk, and more beneficial to humans and animals to swim with and study them in their home: the sea.

          The legality issues are another thing to consider: we’re talking about a private sector business and they are under law to enforce workplace safety for their employees. Because of this, SeaWorld may be facing more negativity from OSHA. If you start your SeaWorld blog, send me a link!

      • I appreciate your concern. I thought about it and I realize that even when the trainers aren’t in the water, they share an amazing bond with the whales. I know you don’t agree with thus but that is my point of view. I will be sure to send you a link for any cetacean-related blog I start! Thank you for being so encouraging! 🙂

  6. Its abundantly clear that the aggression is from being trapped in such tight quarters-and to the whales-their trainers are the aggressors who put them there. Plain and simple. Like a dog who’s owner ties him to a tree for a lifetime and yet feeds and waters him these trainers do the same in the eyes of these extraordinary and wise animals. God save their fate in the future.

  7. Well, I am a pro-cap. I know that killer whales are wild animlas. But, I know very well that the trainers and orcas have a bond. The trainers love and care for the whales a lot. It should not be taken away. They should get back in the water. I remember Believe. Anything is possible. I am believing. One day, one day.

    • Orcas and trainers have a bond but it is certainly not mutual. The reason why SeaWorld lost their case is because they could not present any good reason for the trainers to return to the water. The benefits of a return to the water cannot be supported economically or legally. You say to Believe, that anything is possible. But I am certain that you would argue that captive whales cannot be successfully released, among other things.

    • Are you for real these animals do not belong in captivity period and you are very naive in thinking they do. Do some research and learn about their life in the wild then maybe you wouldn’t come out with such an irresponsible comment.

  8. Of any of them in California, besides Kasatka, why, why did they do this with Orkid? Especially considering her rap sheet. I thought the number of incidents with her was now 17?

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