An intriguing article addressing the questions that are inevitable in the aftermath if the film. Legitimate questions with very insightful and thought-provoking comments continuing the discussion in impressive, progressive and constructive ways. Actually, I’m very much looking forward to contributing to this ongoing conversation. But, first, I must acknowledge how refreshing it is to see responsible and constructive questions addressed in the aftermath of the film. I am relieved to see that there are journalists still capable of putting things into perspective rationally, fairly weighing the pros and cons without pushing an agenda. Forthcoming questions elicit honest answers. These thoughts reveal that there are hidden motivations geared to manipulate rather than inform. The power of the message was exploited by some that were incapable of answering those approached here accurately, honestly, and from a truly experienced background. As a former animal trainer of ten years (seven of which were spent with orcas), I was hopeful that this film would prove more of an opportunity to constructively address the concerns surrounding captivity. As the layers of this onion were peeled away before me, I became disenchanted with the potential as the reality behind the scenes was revealed. Insight of experienced individuals, like that of Hargrove, Simmons and Ashdown, was swapped for the folklore of others’ barely registered presence alongside the whales. The fate of the animals many of us have sacrificed so much for, the animals many of us continue to sacrifice for, was to be left in the hands of failed and fraudulent trainers, radical activists proven to be careless and inconsistent in past rehab projects, and self-proclaimed orca experts recovering from failed publications. Now I have hope that the responsible conversations will take precedence over any subconscious propaganda the film perpetuated. What was once promised to never become aligned amongst activism has been lost amongst the muck of its destruction. With these questions, let’s bring back the light to the message that has been lost within the power of one’s agenda. Let us not exploit, but explore the opportunity to respect the memory of those we have loved and lost as we constructively approach solutions to provide better circumstances for those each of us has given so much for. Many legitimate voices were edited in the interest of maintaining the… Integrity of stories others in the film have created to give some sense of relevance to their hindered insight. I am fairly empathetic to this particular circumstance. I feel poor decisions were made to include easily discredited trainers with irrelevant recollections of events from twenty years ago over those with substantially more experience and current insight. There was clearly an agenda hidden within her initial sales pitch, and, as the saying goes, hindsight is always 20/20. To trust your life’s dedication and your experience to an individual interested in only betraying and exploiting to create an appearance of credibility for those who obviously exaggerate their own time with the animals is disheartening. I am hurt that someone that presents herself as such a caring and compassionate person is capable of this extent of deceit and manipulation. I have spoken with John, who is a dear friend of mine and colleague, and I currently refer to Blackfish as “The Little Film That Could.” I am proud of the message and credibility he lent to the film. It was one of the few moments honest and respectful to the capacity of these whales and of the relationships trainers like ourselves gave so much for. What could have been a film providing insight to a greater opportunity to inspire change, emphasize responsibility and encourage all to become accountable for our moral obligation to these animals has devolved into a mouse trap for the power hungry, destructive and self-serving former trainers lost in their own delusional misrepresentations of their “experience” all in the name of proving something or pushing an agenda. It is encouraging to see another credible source being forthright with the fallacies prevalent throughout the testimonies of other former trainers. I am grateful that Gabriaela was successful at bringing this topic to the mainstream, but I am disappointed it was done so under false pretenses. You are right. We can do better. We owe the animals that much. We have the experience dreams are still made of and that gives us the power to circulate the honest-to-goodness truth, free of hidden agendas and make-believe careers. The rational voice amongst this topic is alive and well and reviving my hope of inspiring change for the animals. As for the question interested in comparing the contributions of the film and SeaWorld to the cause of conservation, it is a very bothersome truth to just one of the the plethora of double standards that are strewn throughout the film. Ridiculing for blame while critiquing and blaming themselves. The audacity of those like Jeff and Sam with extremely limited insight into killer whale care to point a finger at SeaWorld for their ponytail “tale” yet later criticize, in very poor and inaccurate form, the final session of a well-respected, highly experienced trainer is appalling. I could digress upon many such examples hours upon hours. But raising the question of what percentage of profits the very successful documentary Blackfish will contribute to any efforts towards conservation is wise and unavoidable. It’s another platform of blame the anti-caps use that’s assembled since the film’s release in an attempt to stain SeaWorld’s reputation. According to Naomi Rose, merely 1% of SeaWorld’s profits go towards rehab and rescue (May it be noted that, with the unreliable and inconsistent data this researcher has given us, I, personally, take this piece of data with a grain of salt), yet, has any money or will any portion of the millions being profited from this story go to supporting the very cause they are championing for? Or will it simply be parlayed into a down payment on a new house in the Hills? Maybe it’s already set for the next best story to be reenacted at the hands of a director incapable of revealing the whole truth. Rather, she is a master at orchestrating an agenda-based storyline based on many who have reliably misrepresented themselves and, therefore, misinformed the masses. I agree in that we have a responsibility and an obligation to raise awareness of the truth behind the hype and provide an audience with a message from highly experienced, compassionate and dedicated individuals seeking only to create the best circumstances for the animals we love. Collectively, we can and we will do better than this little film that could but got lost along the way, intoxicated more by the power rather than by the purpose of the message.
Follow up with a quick reality check… This girl is indeed out of SeaWorld. But, I’m also smart enough and experienced enough to know that there is more to this story than what’s being presented. I am not going to drift over listlessly into the war-torn waters of those flying the flag of anti-caps and passively follow behind a collective message I find valid and legitimate faults in. I’ll fly my own flag, proudly. I’ll cry out my own message, confidently. I’m for change. I’m for this being an opportunity to improve. I’m for ending animals exploited as entertainment purposes and breeding machines. I think we all share those very same values, just with very different approaches for very obvious reasons. I had the privilege of not only being capable of talking the talk, but I walked the walk… For a decade. Because of this unique insight very few people have had the opportunity to bring forward, I have a great responsibility, because I am not for contorting manipulations and exaggerating legitimacy to push a cause. There is more than just right or wrong in this issue. There’s another option. It’s the responsible one. AmandaZ addresses all the concerns individuals like myself have been stating all along. And, with that, my hope is revived. Honestly, the waters surrounding Blackfish and DASW are so chummed up with double standards, I couldn’t even keep up if I wanted to. Here’s just a few red flags that have me concerned at the true motivations behind their own scenes- “These animals are self aware and capable of highly-evolved emotions and elaborate relationships” yet, many of the subjects denounce the existence of relationships proven within the insight of others’ experiences. The logic used to discredit the existence of the trainer/animal bond is narrow-sighted and based on observations from individuals with an elementary understanding of training and caring for orcas. There is simply a lack in the time of experience necessary to have one for themselves at its fullest, if even at all. Then we have “Shame on them for blaming Dawn” spliced in with inexperienced facsimiles of trainers criticizing her final moments. Recklessly. Onward we go to “Shame on SeaWorld for not spending their billions on the animals” followed quickly by a cacophony of mocking and ranting about these exhibit renovations that would serve to enrich the whales’ environment with a stream machine. Then we have the ever-popular “Don’t buy a ticket!” Yet, more often than not many of these anti-caps spend his or her days loitering around Miami Seaquarium and SeaWorld watching shows and taking pics of these animals that can be posted on another angry blog that will go live once one has walked back out the gates of “slavery.” May I suggest that before you spend time glittering a sign to hold while yelling and traumatizing a family simply doing the exact same thing some of you continue to do day in and day out, before you begin to fight a float in a parade, before you cry from the hills “Free them all,” ask yourself… What exactly is it you want to accomplish? For me, I want better decisions made responsibly that benefit the animals and don’t push an agenda that could be detrimental to the very ones we love. My years dedicated to developing and maintaining amazing relationships with every animal I worked alongside hold me accountable for speaking out responsibly for improvements and changes that are very overdue. I want to accomplish this with the truth shared and corroborated by those who know first hand after spending years, decades, even quarter-centuries providing care. People who still continue to have the animals first in their hearts and not the soul-less drive to pursue an end game at any cost. I give credit when credit is due. I don’t bully, I don’t cheat, I don’t fake a past. Instead, I’ve allowed myself to be exploited. I’ve allowed my truth to be brushed aside. I’ve allowed myself to be silenced. That is, until now. This is no self-serving piece. This is my truth, my experience, my story to tell. This is the side of reason and the opposition necessary to approach a responsible and respectable resolution to the issues surrounding captivity. This is the side that doesn’t lose sight of the animals’ well-being in the interest of making an activist’s agenda the priority. With all the misrepresentations and unfounded accusations running rampant amongst the masses at the hands of irresponsible, reckless and misinformed individuals willing to lie, cheat, steal, twist and turn the actual information in a reliably inconsistent way in order to serve his or her own propaganda, getting my message out there is my responsibility. As Hargrove says, sharing my insight is me stepping up to my own moral obligation to the whales in order to ensure the animals I gave everything to regain their dignity considerately, rather than selfishly at the hands of those incapable of appreciating the depth of compassion these animals are capable of. I am a part of a group of current trainers, former trainers, those who dreamed of once being trainers who want, above all else, to do the right thing rather than simply “win.” We want to fight to give the animals the best while allowing a process to naturally take it’s course. These are lives at stake, not pieces in a chess game to be collected. We can’t simply turn around and race away, claiming to have set them free but actually only leaving them in the fjords of Iceland or the inlets of British Colombia, alone. Animals would be at high risk to be left abandoned in the interest of pressing forward towards the completion of a final resolution that, in previous circumstances, contradict the very behavioral observations these activists documented occurring within past endeavors. Most importantly, my message, my insight, my relevant contributions to this discussion has only just begun. The feedback has been interesting to say the least. Although I appreciate any thoughts and constructive feedback, I’d suggest leaving any concerns regarding my own grammatical errors to those who don’t shorthand this and that to “dis” and “dat,” indicate the possessive with a “z” or are incapable of spelling that frequently spouted curse word at me correctly. Also, there’s no ego trip here. However, many of your heroes “voices” come from delusions of grandeur.
In response to others seeking a few more answers:
An eloquently written piece, but I’m concerned by the lack of actual rebuttals here. You criticise the other “failed and fraudulent” trainer’s “folklore” without actually giving us examples.
What exactly do you find misleading about their statements, what makes their testimonies so infuriating to you that you feel the need to criticise people so strongly, people who, at least in this article: http://voiceoftheorcas.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/another-former-seaworld-killer-whale.html you seemed to have no issue with?
BP- Perfect example of learning curve. Speaking out has been a process of learning to ask the right questions and standing up for myself. Trainers are some of the most stubborn people around, but I felt that I gave consideration to the constraints in regards to the context of their experience and didn’t necessarily receive the same consideration from all when it came to that of my own experience and opinions. In all honesty, I am saddened to lose the friendship of one in particular, especially because, even though our POVs differ slightly, I still hold a lot of respect and regard for her. There was a crossroad and it was no longer appropriate to allow myself to associate with them ethically. I thought I had found a group of trainers that were going to be supportive and trustworthy. This is true to a certain extent, but, ultimately, the actions of two of the members were more exploitive than exemplary. I am all for asking the tough questions to demand accountability, but I refuse to be apart of the actions of some that circulate false information to compensate for lack of knowledge. Dawn’s family was not “cash-washed.” Animals are not chopped up into dog food. (See link to YouTube video below.) Tooth issues were never a result of jaw-popping, anesthetics are used, and it’s a hand drill, not a power drill. Also, there is no enamel ever present on the whales teeth so nothing falls off while gate-banging. The lack of enamel is why they are so prone to erosion and poor oral health, particularly in the context of captivity. A former trainer drawing reference to the wearing of the orca’s enamal is obviously an uneducated comment (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/09/killer-whale-trainer/). I agree that there are serious tooth issues as a result of the captive environment. But when trainers with a strong involvement in daily tooth husbandry like myself or Hargrove point out these areas of vulnerability in a peer-reviewed paper, it should be modified accordingly, not disregarded and circulated. As for an example of an exaggeration… Two tours does not equal credibility. I would tend to stray away from taking into consideration the opinions regarding responsible safety approaches when coming from a former trainer who had multiple, documented safety violations during waterwork with orcas or one that wasn’t even given an opportunity to establish a complex waterwork relationship outside the very minimal, basic parameters given approval for within the span of a year working there. And, how does one obtain “seven years of experience working with Tilikum” when the grand total of your experience just being at Shamu equals just under three (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2010/02/animal-activists-call-for-end-to-sea-world-captive-orcas-tilikum.html)?
Who exactly has been proven to be inconsistent in past rehab projects?
BP- This may have been misread. The opinions stated by Naomi Rose are reliably inconsistent. I delve a bit deeper into this in the question you asked regarding her more specifically a bit farther down. Instead, I’d like to point out individuals contributing more relevant and responsible rehabilitation. Ric O’Barry, Jeff Foster and PROMAR are all examples of cetacean rehabilitation programs approaching things in a considerate, respectful and more successful way.
You state the film is full of propaganda, what in particular do you find so unappealing?
In the interest of taking into consideration making due with what was available, the best was done with the sources available. Definitely many things I would have approached differently, but this was not my visions. Some people I believe more credit rather than be villianized. Kelly Flaherty Clark was the first to debunk the ponytail theory, but not credit for her standing up for Dawn was depicted in the film. Many of these people I still hold a lot of respect and regard for. They were my collegueas and friends. There were many things that disappointed me in the wake of the OSHA proceedings, but, I feel the pressure for real change will come at the hands of those directed the profits, not to those that still are doing what they feel is what’s best for the animals. My path has lead me down a different manner of speaking out for the whales, but in no way do I wish to villianize those former coworkers who are simply doing what they feel is right for the animals much like myself and many others.
How are past trainers testimonies “irrelevant”, after all Blackfish as much about the history of Tilikum and the other whales as much as SeaWorld’s current status. Having left very recently, how would you say things have changed since the time of the VOTO members?
BP- Valid point. I suppose I should have chosen my words more carefully. I can’t necessarily judge whether or not a testimony is relevant in the context of their employment. But I can assure you that the credibility and the relevance is compromised with the amount of changes that have occurred in the recent years. Since their absence, a lot of their information is second hand sources that I experienced first hand. And, even in my first year as an apprentice at Shamu, I was made aware of Tilikum’s history as well as all corporate incidents and videos. This was information provided to me by the department, not something I found out after my employment via social media. Information available is also heirarchy-based. It is dependent on whether or not you have been approved or are capable of working the animal who’s history is in question.
How did the ex-trainers exaggerate their time with the Orcas? Albeit they may not have contributed as many years as you, but why does that mean their personal experiences with the whales are to be of no account?
BP- I value honesty as much as transperency. When the answer some have given in regards to their experience at SeaWorld fluctuates, it tends to send me a red flag. This is not an across-the-board statement to all members, but when one can’t reliably give the same answer as to how long they worked with the animals, I would hope more than just myself would then in turn question the credibility and accuracy of their contributions. If one can’t keep track of a single year at Shamu or somebody rounds up three years experience at killer whale to seven years working with Tilikum, should any of us place so much relevance on the information they are contributing to the subject at hand? At one point, this was the only source of insight available and it went unchecked for quite some time. Now we know that there are more current sources willingly to share their experiences that can prove to support or revoke certain information from the past. The amount of time I spent with the animals and the level of trainer I excelled to speaks highly of my proficiency in this area, particularly to that of killer whales. Shamu is one of the most hyper-critical, safety-driven areas, and to achieve Senior Trainer status in that stadium is a huge accomplishment that speaks volumes to the amount of information and in-depth understanding on the concerns surrounding the whales. There are other more recent trainers, like Kim Ashdown and Michele Lee-Blakeney, and, for that matter, it doesn’t get much more on-point than the experience that John Hargrove can contribute, all of these people can corroborate a more up-to-date analysis on the behind-the-scenes situation of NOW. When it comes to sources, would you rather quote an individual with one year minimal experience with orcas from two decades past or that of someone with fourteen years experience, one who was most respected behaviorally, and one with tours of service at three separate facilities, one of which he supervised, who just recently resigned his position?
Do you have any examples of inconsistent and unreliable data had Naomi Rose given us?
BP- I find the notion of seeking out this woman in the interest of animal welfare deplorable. After all, Dr. Rose states she believes animals are better off dead than in captivity (“Aquarium ignored reality of captivity,” @issue, Jan. 17). In the hours following Dawn’s death, Naomi Rose was already giving interviews to New York Daily News journalist. Most importantly…. This isn’t from third or fourth sources. It’s quoted and published directly from the words of Rose. Rose is quick to detract from those who challenge her Keiko “success”/”absolutely failure” (which is it by the way because in the span of a September 16, 2013 interview she states both) since they were not present at Keiko’s pen and don’t know. Yet, here we are today, with you interjected yourself into the debate of Dawn, when you were neither there nor have any intimate knowledge of Tilikum’s hx. Naomi Rose is the epitome of radicalism and irrational resolutions because she is willing to do anything it takes to prove a point. Even Jeff Foster, a lead trainer for Keiko who left after Rose’s coerced “tough love” approach took place before she abandoned him with unreliable behavioral data to support such as reckless decision, was fearful that your message was taking precedence over the well-being of the whale.
As for current evidence of unreliably opinions, here Naomi states Tilikum simply played with Dawn to death and that his behavior was in no way consistent with that of aggresssion: http://residentmediapundit.com/?p=1424
Later, actually the day of Dawn’s death, we have her stating that it was an act of aggression: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/killer-whale-kills-trainer-orlando-sea-world-whale-tilikum-linked-human-deaths-article-1.168269
Naomi has stated in interviews that animals are better off dead than in captivity. Here, an excerpt from the article:
It is an insult to the aquarium’s professional staff, volunteers, members and the city of Atlanta for activist Naomi Rose of the Humane Society of the United States to suggest that it would have been better for Gasper the beluga whale and Ralph the whale shark to die rather than be rescued by the aquarium, where they received excellent care and inspired millions of visitors (“Aquarium ignored reality of captivity,” @issue, Jan. 17).
Naomi is quick to detract from those who challenge her Keiko “success”/”absolutely failure” (which is it by the way because in the span of you September 16, 2013 interview she implies both) since they were not present at Keiko’s pen and don’t know. Yet, here we are today, with you interjected yourself into the debate of Dawn when you were neither there nor have any intimate knowledge of Tilikum’s hx. Rose is the epitome of radicalism and irrational resolutions because she is willing to do anything it takes to prove a point. Even Jeff Foster, a lead trainer for Keiko who left after the infamously coerced “tough love” approach used to rationalize abandoning him, was fearful that her message was taking precedence over the well-being of the whale.
Keiko was an opportunity taken advantage of. Journalist Susan Orlean had a very accurate grasp on the situation and the capacity to ask the questions keeping the best interest of Keiko’s well-being in mind with the likes of other stand-out good-doers like Jeff Foster. Here’s a perfect example of Rose’s flip-flopping while once before placing the agenda before what was something he might not possibly be capable of understanding. Since Rose likes to speculate that Keiko certainly wouldn’t have lived that long in Mexico nor in Oregon, why not take into consideration the fact that he could have lived longer in Iceland had her “tough love” not intervened. She acknowledges him as not being the best candidate, but he was the only available… To exploit. Very unfortunate. Put then again, the proof is in the video:
Tough love was not edited out of context. That approach was a reckless pursuit of obtaining an agenda. I tend to side with the insight given in the following research provided to me by Jason Bruck. Keiko’s behavior amongst the wild whales was very rarely documented. There was some acknowledgement of Keiko following some of the same individuals (although some of the available video footage I’ve happened across show more of an animal moving away from the direction of the whales within his vicinity. As addressed in the research paper linked below, there may have been a mutual acclimatization facilitating a growing familiarity between Keiko and these wild whales. It is noted that limited visual contact did not allow for drawing definitive conclusions. He was typically seen on the periphery, or logging at a distance, all of which suggests that he was not socially intergrated with the wild pod at the time of his last visual observation. Abandoned to fend for himself, without any supporting behavioral evidence, all in the pursuit of a tough love agenda that exploited a less than desirable candidate for release at any cost. Much appreciation to Researcher Jason Brucks for this resource ( http://www.orcanetwork.org/nathist/simon2009keiko.pdf ).
I find it a bit farfetched to criticise a documentary for not contributing to conservation. That is not the purpose of a documentary, they exist to spread a message and inform the public. It is meant to be SeaWorld’s job to engage in conservation and educating the public on marine mammals, to then spend at decent proportion of their money on conservation projects. If they are so pleased with their efforts why don’t they release the percentage value of how much they spend on conservation? Please if you know of a single instance in which SeaWorld has contributed meaningful conservation efforts towards wild orca, lets us know, I’d love to hear of them helping wild orca .
Fair enough. I agree on your comment that a documentary’s purpose is to spread a message. In fact, I give credit to the director taking this mainstream. The criticism I have in regards to contributions is not as much directed at the film as it is to those riding on its coat tails. That is beyond the realm of her control to a certain extent. Many activists have become drunk with the power behind the message of the film and lost sight of what it was originally founded on. I listed some of the double standards that are concerning to me within my prior post. This was simply stated as an one of the examples of how one cannot use information to support one’s own agenda while implicating another’s POV. As for the reasons behind the secrecy of information regarding contributions, I agree with you on that one. They do contribute to lots of nonprofit rescue and rehab facilities on all three coasts, they do have a successful rehabilitation and release for sea turtles, manatees and sea lions, and let’s even give them credit for contributing to grey whales because of JJ since it did happen. There are thousands of great examples of SW’s contributions in regards to Hubbs research, manatees, TX Marine Mammal Stranding Network, etc., etc., etc., but there should be much more. This is definitely an opportunity for improvement, considering the amount of money the animals bring into the park and the extent to which they are exploited for entertainment purposes instead of educational now more than ever before. Decisions made by the corporation to renovate the park’s restaurants instead of painting pools whales were peeling paint from infuriate me still. Showing a willingness to invest millions on a sound system instead of renovating facilities that are extremely out-dated is a massive flaw. And then there is Kshamenk. I agree with John Hargrove that SeaWorld should feel an obligation to improve his decrepit conditions of living since they are profiting immensely from his semen.
P.S.- There was a recent example of Sea World assisting in the rescue of a pod stranded in the Fraser Islands, but turns out can’t give them that. Other Sea World. There was talks of assisting with an orphaned orca while I was working there, but efforts to transfer the animal to SWSD were blocked successfully. The link is included below just as an FYI. Also, and I’m sure we both agree this is an unfortunate circumstance, but SeaWorld has provided veterinary assistance in the rehab of an orca, Morgan.
Can you give us your perspective on the events leading up to Dawns (RIP) death? What did you find misleading? How would you have interpreted the incident?
BP- My response to this is no. I refuse to partake in any sort of criticism of a well-respected, highly regarded and more experienced trainer. This incident was tragic. Any statements or commentary regarding food, motivation, etc. are circumstantial based on an old school understanding of Shamu Stadium’s SOPs from two decades prior. Even during my tenure at SWSA, safety procedures were continually evolving. Safety nets, emergency air, emergency primary, trot lines, recalls, alarm systems, staffing requirements, and false-bottoms were improved upon or installed in the years that followed. Besides, if you want the most accurate, up-to-date information on such a highly publicized topic, it’s a bit like choosing to listen to a phonograph of yesteryear, very out-dated and unreliable nor relevant to current realities of the industry, when you have Sirius radio in the palm of your hands.
What important truths has Gabriela left out that you would’ve liked to see included in the film?
BP- Ultimately, Gabriela did what she felt best with the sources available at the time of production. Now we know that not all information presented as fact in the film actually are credible. I feel there is a responsibility to the message and the movement to stick to those who have remained consistent in their motivations, experiences and first-hand knowledge of the actual events taking place before, during and following the loss of Dawn and Alexis. Now, I would hope decisions would be made to utilize the most credible and relevant information from the most up-to-date resources over the ones that have misrepresented themselves slightly or provided false information regarding issues of tooth care, proceed to critique from a novice perspective the final moments of Dawn’s last session in an immature, uneducated manner while continuing to criticize SeaWorld for blaming Dawn. It seems like an attempt for them to seem like they have a much more important contribution than what is in reality their very elementary, misinformed and disrespectful act of doing the very thing they chastise others for doing. Again, until the go-ahead permission is granted, much more startling, fabricated events that never really occurred will reveal themselves.
What would you feel are constructive ways to address the issue of orca captivity? In your opinion would you like to see orca captivity ended, or do you feel it can continue albeit not in its present form?
BP- The responsible and rational way is to stop exploiting all animals for entertainment purposes and stop the breeding program. There has to be a productive conversation like the one that I was participating in at AnneZ’s blog. Brainstorming with people capable of considering another’s valid perspective without coming under attack is how solutions will become most effective. There isn’t one answer. But when the end-all answer of sea pens is given, why wouldn’t one take into consideration the case of Nami and the 180-lbs of stones ingested while in a sea pen that was found in the necropsy? These types of lessons are available to guide us in a way most considerate to the animal’s well-being. Something so unfortunate in one case could help us make better decisions for others. This information could help ensure locations are looked at with more appropriate criteria or whether or not an animal will be solitary may hinder the progress. Even I find myself very critical with answers that I think are feasible in regards to the whales, because, since February 24, 2010, trainer safety is center stage for OSHA. Now we must begin to factor in OSHA’s demands. There are some amazing plans for sanctuaries, bigger facilities, etc., but, we are in the middle of a court case that may dictate how much bigger and better these facilities can get while still balancing the safety of the trainers and keepers. Sadly, working with large predators is inherently dangerous. With the developments in certain cases and a tragic abundance in recent examples of worst-case-scenario outcomes, even the most well-intended solution for the well-being of the animals may contradict what the government deems is safest for the trainers and keepers themselves. The upgrades in safety equipment in my 10-yr tenure at SWSA was unbelievable. Before 2010, we had two high-profile corporate incidents that significantly changed our safety requirements while interacting with killer whales. Staffing went from four trainers necessary to swim with the animals to at least seven in response to incidents occurring 2004 and 2006. The last couple of years alone resulted in a myriad of amended and extremely constricting SOPs that were constantly evolving in an attempt to best address trainer safety while still attempting to meet the needs of the animals. Just an additional variable that finds its place amidst the concerns and issues addressed by many here today. Funding for bigger, better facilities will also very likely include an abundance of costly safety installations in order to best prevent another tragedy from occurring while providing care for the animals. An orca sanctuary sounds idealistic, but when we have to factor in the “What-ifs?” a 100-ft deep sea pen will have to accommodate for the potential of rescuing a person still needed in daily care. This is a perfect example of where the experience of recent and even current trainers will have to be factored in alongside the blue-skies planning for these facilities.
I don’t intend to be aggressive or accusatory; I would generally like to know your views on these matters as you spoke about them so passionately in your article
BP- I understand that my initial post was more opinionated and spur-of-the-moment than my typical self, but we all have our thresholds. This topic can inevitably become highly emotional being that many of us have dedicated out entire lives to pursue working alongside these animals in one capacity or another. Orcas and other cetaceans possess this ability to draw in so many people seeking out any form of connection. I do not feel like my years of dedication to their care is anything to hide. I sacrificed so much to achieve even more for them. In return, they gave me relationships and memories that continue to inspire and drive me towards accomplishing something greater for them. I still keep in contact with many who still work at these facilities. I do not doubt that they are truly there for the animals as much as any of us are and they are sacrificing tremendously to do so too. Many of us get so emotional because we have dedicated so much of ourselves to the animals for most of our lives. Stories of the relationships we had with the orcas and stories others can contribute genuinely resonate across a broader audience. I am glad to see that there are individuals out there capable of looking past the more sensational, unfounded accusations and focus on what we are really striving for- achieving what is in the best interest of the animals. When there is research purposefully geared towards a focus on female orcas in an interest of obtaining higher longevity averages but captive animals are all lumped together, it would be irresponsible not to point out those types of biases that are meant to solely push one’s agenda. We may all have different perspectives on how to achieve this, but being considerate and respectful to what many can honestly contribute to round table conversations like this one can help us best decided what we should strive for with all the animals.