Ex-SeaWorld Trainers Speak Out

By Ric O’Barry

Campaign Director

Dolphin Project


For 40 years, I’ve been speaking out against keeping dolphins and other whales in captivity.  Now, due to the death of a trainer by an orca in captivity that SeaWorld Orlando could not cover up, several ex-trainers are starting to speak out.

Dolphins and especially orcas, the largest of the dolphins, are intelligent and social animals that swim many miles every day in the wild in a very complex environment.  They do not do well in small concrete tanks cut off from their families and a rich ocean environment. 

In February 2010, a male orca named Tilikum, in front of a crowd at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, grabbed trainer Dawn Brancheau and held her underwater.  Her death led to the shocking information, withheld from other trainers and the public, that Tilikum had been involved in the deaths of two other persons in separate incidents prior to coming to SeaWorld.

The US Occupational Health and Safety Agency, after investigating Brancheau’s death, has ripped SeaWorld’s safety record, fining them $75,000 and working to prevent any trainers from going into a tank with the SeaWorld orcas ever again.  SeaWorld is fighting back with all the power their billions of dollars in revenues from captive dolphin and orca shows can muster.

Dr. John Jett told the Orlando Sentinel, based on secret SeaWorld documents leaked to him from current SeaWorld staff:

“In retrospect, it’s very disturbing how little information was conveyed to me about the relative risks associated with working around captive orcas,” said John Jett, a SeaWorld trainer from 1992-96 who is now a professor at Stetson University. “I was never fully informed of the real risks I faced working around Tili [Tilikum], nor was I ever fully informed of the risks I faced with being in the water with any of the animals.

“In hindsight, I was extraordinarily naive, but my naiveté was fueled by a fabricated sense of safety constructed from a gross lack of detail.”

(For full article, go to:http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2011-09-06/business/os-seaworld-trainer-dangers-20110906_1_killer-whale-trainers-tilikum-seaworld-orlando-trainer )

Another former SeaWorld trainer, Samantha Berg, gave a riveting interview on CBS’s Early Show:


Yet another former SeaWorld trainer is Carol Ray, who appeared on Anderson Cooper on CNN:


Wired online magazine interviewed former SeaWorld trainer Jeff Ventre:



Dolphins and other whales simply do not belong in captivity.  We should work to end the practice of keeping these magnificent animals in small fish tanks. 

All captures of wild dolphins should be stopped.  Those animals that can be rehabilitated and released to the wild should be released.  Of course, not all captive cetaceans make good candidates for release. Those animals that cannot be released should be taken off exhibit and placed in natural sea pens, where they can live out the rest of their lives in peace in a semblance of their home environments, experiencing the tides and currents without having to perform stupid tricks in order to be fed an adequate diet. (Claims by the captive industry that captive dolphins and other whales cannot be released are self-serving rhetoric – nothing more.) 

There is also no reason to breed dolphins in captivity – why breed an intelligent animal just so they can do stupid tricks in a circus atmosphere?  Birth control should be implemented.

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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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