Ex SeaWorld Trainers Speak out Against Captivity

By Ric O’Barry
Dolphin Project


It is no secret among the Dolphin Project’s supporters that SeaWorld is a nightmarish prison for animals, as well as source of constant danger for those who work with captive dolphins and whales (SeaWorld Trainer Dawn Brancheau’s recent death being an example of this). Unfortunately, many people continue to subscribe to the idyllic illusion that SeaWorld goes to great lengths to maintain – that whales and dolphins are happy in captivity.


Luckily for captive cetaceans everywhere, four ex-SeaWorld trainers have come forward with their personal accounts of the poignant suffering that is a prominent feature of captivity. The ex-trainer’s decisions to speak out forms an important contribution in uncovering the truth about captivity – a truth which forces us all to question the ways we treat animals in general.


Blue Freedom, an organization that works to free captive orca whales such as Tilly, conducted enlightening and damning interviews with ex-trainers John Jett, Samantha Berg, Jeffrey Ventre and Carol Ray. You can view the complete interviews here.


Each trainer told Blue Freedom about the food deprivation techniques that are used to ensure performance; they describe the painful dental surgeries that orcas are routinely subjected to (without anesthesia); and the list of abuses goes on.


One particularly poignant statement comes from Samantha Berg, who lays waste to SeaWorld’s argument that an indication of the whales’ happiness can be seen in their frequent breeding and births: “…to insinuate just because the animals are having sex they must be happy is ludicrous. People have sex with each other in prison all the time and that doesn’t mean they are happy!!”


Perhaps the most heart-rending portion of the interview is Carol Ray’s account of an orca whale calf being separated from her mother in order to be shipped to a different facility: “(The calf) was just 4 years old when we were told that she would be removed from her mother and her 2 half siblings… To watch her and her mother struggle to try and stay together while they were forcibly separated by nets, and then watch the calf hoisted with a crane, put in a truck and shipped away was simply heartbreaking. But the worst of it was after it was over, and I stayed on night duty to do observations. The mother spent the night alone in a corner of her tank, shivering and screeching, crying because of her loss, for the entire night.”


People have a difficult time imagining themselves in an animal’s situation. This lack of empathy and consideration is the source of animal suffering everywhere. The illusion that animals do not have emotions or are not ‘intelligent’ enough to experience suffering in the same capacities that humans do is a widely-held and, often, ferociously guarded belief.


Fortunately, it is also one that is increasingly being challenged. The recent symposium on cetacean rights in Vancouver, Canada demonstrates that more people, among them credible, respected scientists, are convinced that cetaceans should not be subjected to the tortures of captivity. As our understanding of cetaceans and other animals continues to grow, so to will the argument for their ethical treatment.


Carol Ray sums it up nicely when she says, “to claim love for these animals and yet to support them being in confinement, it’s a great hypocrisy really.” Indeed. It is a hypocrisy that SeaWorld continues to advocate for, because of the enormous profits they generate in doing so. This hypocrisy extends to every person who visits a dolphin and whale show although I’m sure they are mostly unaware of it. If you truly love dolphins and whales, you should not support their capture, confinement or killing in any way, and that includes imprisonment in dolphinariums where they do stupid tricks for us.


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About Ric O'Barry

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Ric O’Barry, Dolphin Project Founder & Director has worked on both sides of the captive dolphin issue, making him an invaluable asset in the efforts to end exploitation. He worked for 10 years within the dolphin captivity industry, and has spent the past 40 working against it.

In the 1960s, O’Barry was employed by the Miami Seaquarium, where he captured and trained dolphins, including the five dolphins who played the role of Flipper in the popular American TV-series of the same name. He also trained Hugo, the first orca kept in captivity east of the Mississippi. When Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper most of the time, died in his arms, O’Barry realized that capturing dolphins and training them to perform silly tricks is simply wrong.

From that moment on, O’Barry knew what he must do with his life. On the first Earth Day, 1970, he launched a searing campaign against the multi-billion dollar dolphin captivity industry and has been going at it ever since.

Over the past 40 years, Ric O’Barry has rescued and rehabilitated dolphins in many countries around the world, including Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Bahamas Islands and the United States. He is a leading voice in the fight to end brutal dolphin hunts in Japan, the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, and wherever else they occur.

O’Barry has been recognized by many national and international entities for his dedicated efforts, such as being voted Huffington Post’s 2010 Most Influential Green Game Changer, and being listed on O Magazine’s 2010 Power List – Men We Admire for his “Power of Passion.” O’Barry received an Environmental Achievement Award, presented by the United States Committee for the United Nations Environmental Program. He has done countless interviews with such prestigious news programs as Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360, the Mike Huckabee Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

His book Behind the Dolphin Smile was published in 1989; a second book, To Free A Dolphin was published in September 2000. Both of them are about his work and dedication. He is the star of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove and the Animal Planet television series Blood Dolphin$.

Author: Ric O'Barry


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