Orca Incident: Unanswered Questions

sea world killer whale
First, let me say again that wild animal training is a dangerous profession.

Also, Sea World has always been close mouthed with a pretty good public relations department and corporate family that is very tight lipped.

Today’s press conference illustrated just how structured this corporate entity is.

When I had the opportunity to join that “family” I declined because it was not a good fit no matter how enticing the offer of working with orcas was.

My first intimate interactions with an orca was on the stage at Sea World San Diego in the early 1980s with other professional members of IMATA (International Marine Animal Training Association) and it was pretty awe inspiring.

I knew the orcas at Hanna Barbera’s Marineland but only through window and tank side interactions and on stage was a different matter.

It has also been at Sea World where I have watched orcas come onto the slidouts and stages after their trainers.

It wasn’t anything new, it is part of the job risk–and has been so since man has been working with wild animals so closely in captivity.

Why do these incidents occur with any wild animal?

Speculation as always…but bad cues, frustration, and other unknowns might be factors.

I always kept my hair short in my early career because I have seen animals grab people by the hair, by limbs and other appendages.

Both animals and trainers are individuals with likes and dislikes.

They have good days and bad days.

Sometimes they “go off” and you don’t know what triggered it.

Orcas are large predatory animals and so are inherently dangerous despite what the media or the general public wants to believe.

Training animals is also complex.

It is not just a science but an art.

You can have the best protocol but things happen.

Think of the neighbor’s dog that gets out and bites someone.

It happens–and it happens a lot.

Most companion animal incidents get dismissed but they are an animal with teeth and the propensity to do harm.

The difference is that they are bred for traits to get along with man and to be amiable.

Wild animals are wild and maybe they are trained but they not are “tame” in the sense people want to believe they are.

In the captive animal world, both management and training personnel have directives they are expected to follow.

I’ve been present when there have been issues within a collection.

We could “feel” it and later saw it being demonstrated through fights and edgy behavior.

Could we say what caused (or triggered) the behavior changes?


In that situation (a large zoo) we were ordered to commence with the regular show despite our concerns.

We were not inside with the animals but did not want to escalate a situation we knew nothing about.

However, management ordered the show go on.

I have to say not all trainers agreed that there was underlying stress but those of us who had been training a long time were concerned.

So, we did see animals acting up and the orders issued were to get at least one animal to perform successfully.

There was nothing discernibly different about the animals or the environment but there was something wrong.

Anyway, my point is that in any given day things can go wrong.

Is it management’s fault? Is it the trainer’s fault? Does it really matter?

Today everyone is ranting and raving over whether or not the trainer broke the protocol or not.

Wow, the woman just died working with a large predator. Maybe she did or maybe she did not.

Ultimately the responsibility falls upon the owners of the animal but like many entities the blame might get passed on.

Okay, then there is the issue of freeing the animal.

Is everyone forgetting how quickly Keiko died and the issues around him?

Everyone wanted him to be free because they watched that movie and wanted to believe it was true.

Uh, hello? That isn’t the real world.

Sea World has successfully rehabilitated many stranded sea animals but would release be best for the animal?

There are groups of people who have experienced whales out at sea and animals in their natural habitats but a vast majority don’t have that opportunity and flock to captive environments.

It is a viewpoint that not everyone holds but one that everyone will argue.

We all are concerned about the orca and about the other trainers and those grieving the trainer’s death.

Good thing they are going to be out of the water. They need to be on their game when working with those large predators.

Now, I find it interesting that I know many retired trainers who are working for non-profits.

Non-profit corporations pay salaries, make money, but just are sanctioned as being better than standard corporations.

Are those corporations really any better or worse? Take a look at their facilities and the status of their collections.

Just sayin’ that before fingers start getting pointed you better do some digging and research.

Plus, any facility will tell you just how much it costs to maintain the health of their collections. It is lot.

I am not a particular fan of edu-tainment (as it is now called) but it does impact and influence the vast majority of people who visit such parks or facilities.

Back before I was born, all zoos and collections started as private menageries and it is only now, with education and affluence, that people are changing their viewpoints.

BUT I wonder just how many of them take actions to help the aberrant conditions of other animals such as those bred for food or those used in animal sports activities.

They are going to yell that this whale is “lashing out” because he is unhappy, etc., etc., because that is how they feel.

But what about those horses that stand in those tiny stalls most of their days?

Anyone making a stink about that?

What about a bull the gores the rider or a horse that bucks his ride?

Are those animals lashing out?

Just consider that rabbit trail…follow it if you dare open that can of worms.

Now, freedom means different things to different people.

I moved from a city to a rural area. It is a different life that needs different skills and many urban folks hate it.

I happen to love it.

Do I want to move to the bush and live in a tent?

No, but some people like it.

My point is that animals are not humans.

Animals have different cultures. Captivity and close relationships with people alter those animals.

I’m not making a judgment call, I am making an observation.

A person who studies orcas in the wild will have a different take on the species than those that work with orcas in captivity.

One will tell you more about the animal and its environment and affiliations while the other is going to tell you more about the individuality of the creature in his or her care.

Both will tell you about the species and the issues facing it.

Those who never have encountered one, or have only seen one from a distance, will tell you what they surmise from that view but not personal knowledge.

Makes a difference.

So, when you move an animal from one environment into another, change its culture, and change its sphere of relationships–is it the same animal?

Ponder that a while.

Next, you have to consider the facts.

First, this orca is considered the property of a large corporation.

Second, can a human habituated animals be successfully back reintegrated into the wild and a whale pod?

Once Keiko was released, nobody really gave a sh**, did they?

I mean, how much did you hear about that? Did you know he died?

Third, how do you definitively define whether or not an animal is happy or unhappy?

Questions you need to ask and questions that are not so easily answered.

Finally, I am still wondering if small proprietary airtanks and breathing hoses are used as part of the regular safety protocols for those doing water work?

About Ark Lady

+ArkLady Enhances the Lives of Animals & Empowers the People Who Love Them! Join the armchair safari or connect via ARKlady website.