Awhile back while doing some digging on the captivity industry and their famous personalities, I came across a short video on Youtube featuring Thad Lacinak. Mr. Lacinak worked at SeaWorld for 35 years, and oversaw all three parks as curator of animal training. He is considered one of the world’s leading experts in the field of marine mammal training. In this video, Mr. Lacinak directs trainers at Dolphinarium Harderwijk on how to train animals for a new show:
Here’s a breakdown of the video:
“It’s the group dynamics that I need to take a look at to make sure that the dolphin will work together. Because, just like people, sometimes they don’t want to work together. They want to be with this one, or these two want to be over there with this third dolphin, and that can create problems for the show.”
Mr. Lacinak gives us the sense that dolphins must submit to trainers because dolphins owe trainers work and owe the audience a good show. The dolphins are expected to put human beings and our silly wishes first and foremost, even before interaction with their own family and friends. I think it goes without saying that this is an arrogant and disrespectful position to take. If we keep these animals in captivity against their will, then we owe them everything.
“They were sitting at the gate messing around and what did you guys do? You reacted to it. If it happens, it happens, but the dolphin don’t get reinforced. They’ll learn that gets them nothing.”
Trainers allegedly use positive reinforcement and do not hit the animals, but this statement clearly illustrates that only obedience is rewarded. Animals that do what they want and think for themselves are ignored. This is the goal of training – to control and manipulate the behavior of dolphins and whales in an attempt to turn them into submissive, exotic show animals.
“They’re all swimming out there, they’re not here fighting at the gate. It’s a frickin’ game these guys are playing. They’re using it as an excuse when you’re trying to get them to work. You’re trying to ask them to do something, and they’re using that as an excuse to play around and goof around.”
Mr. Lacinak seems to believe that whales and dolphins are employees, expected to work and obey their boss – the trainer. But the whales and dolphins did not apply for this job, nor do they seem to express any desire to surrender their mental freedom and work for humans. They prefer to play with their friends, goof around and behave freely like normal dolphins and whales. Of course to Mr. Lacinak, this is simply an “excuse” not to work.
After 35 years of working at SeaWorld it’s no wonder that Mr. Lacinak’s methods and “superiority complex” have rubbed off on SeaWorld staff and management. To Michael Scarpuzzi, vice-president of animal training for SeaWorld California, stopping a show because an animal refuses to perform “places the control of the show to the whale”, which is to be despised. Captivity supporters will often cite such instances of animals ruining shows to prove that they are not forced, controlled, or manipulated by the trainers. Of course trainers cannot control the animals all the time, but an animal taking control is something that staff hates, and tries to avoid at all costs (that is why they train them in the first place). It is not something that they welcome or look highly upon.
Current curator of animal training at SeaWorld Orlando, Kelly Flaherty Clark, openly states that captive whales and their behavior are controlled by trainers:
“When we’re first introducing ourselves to the animals in the water, we first train them to ignore us, to completely ignore us. No matter how much activity is going on in the pool, concentrate on the trainer, the trainer has control of you, or on the behavior you have been asked to do.”
“the trainer has control of you…” This sums up the life of whales and dolphins in captivity, and calls into question the “mutual” relationship that trainers have with the animals. “Control” is a common word in the marine mammal trainer’s vocabulary. They refer to a “controlled environment,” “controlled behavior,” and “splitting from control.”
Overall, I think that this video is very revealing. Not only does it highlight the disrespectful attitude that Mr. Lacinak has toward wildlife, but it alerts us to the fact that this mindset was passed down to SeaWorld staff and other animal trainers around the world.