Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Seaworld Trainers Ignore Beached Pilot Whale, An Overreaction?

A response to the "dolphin stuck at Seaworld" Video

Please understand that this post is neither a defense nor criticism of the SeaWorld parks that continue to gather negative opinions; just simply an observation and opinion. Strangely and conveniently enough, alongside the newly released anti-SeaWorld documentary Blackfish (a documentary that focuses on the danger and cruelty of killer whale captivity), an incriminating Youtube video surfaced, alongside a story (written by David Kirby, author of Death at SeaWorld) of a former SeaWorld-loving family who’s opinion of the aquatic zoo was changed forever. 

The Youtube video shows what is described as a distressed pilot whale on its side, struggling to get back into the water. This event took place during a rainstorm, and apparently the trainers were absent due to the threat of lightening. “The dolphin!!! He’s STUCK!” rings out at high volume in the video (therefore, it’s not safe for work, I made the error to view the video, unmuted, with my slow laptop). Another person shouts “what a f-cking jerkoff” next to the cameraman's young daughter (who he says is now an anti-Seaworld advocate), possibly referring to the uniformed employee who insisted the animal was “just playing”. The protesting from the audience undoubtedly makes the situation seem tense.

Here are the facts that we know; the animal was apparently out of the water in this condition for 20-30 minutes, and while dolphins (although I’ve personally not seen this done with pilot whales) beach themselves sometimes to hunt in the wild, it is not good for them to remain out there for extended periods. Cetaceans have very heavy organs that begin to cave under pressure when they are out of water, and they may also overheat which will lead to death. However, this probably takes hours to occur. Some dolphins and whales will beach themselves on land in the wild if they are sick or for other reasons less known. Pilot whales are the most notorious beachers.

SeaWorld has responded to the controversy stating that the “pilot whale was never in danger”, and that the animals often slide out on their own as they’ve been taught for medical checkups and performances. This is indeed true. There are Youtube videos of orca whales practicing their slide outs and even teaching it to their young. Pilot whales are less common in captivity, but they are taught the same thing as well. SeaWorld representatives also said that the trainers often wait and let the animal figure out how to get back in on its own, as the younger animals are less experienced with doing this.

So while all this information is valid, the pilot whale in question did appear to be in a somewhat awkward predicament unlike that of the animals in the videos I’ve cited. It doesn’t appear to me that the animal would have made it back had the trainers not helped it back in around 30 minutes later. The audience’s reaction may have been appropriate since they are not familiar with these animals or their behavioral patterns, but I do find their distraught response to be a little over the top. 

Even if Seaworld trainers were as horrific and villainous as they are often made out to be, there is no reason why they would intentionally harm these universally loved animals or allow them to suffer with such a simple resolution. Whatever your opinion may be about the captivity of dolphins and whales, this particular incident was likely blown out of proportion.

 To me, it seems obvious that the animals do consistently slide out, and it’s possible that while this particular slide out did seem concerning, the employee assumed it was a typical behavior and not an emergency. Had this not occurred during potential danger for the trainers (lightening) they probably would have acted much sooner. This video does not depict animal cruelty. It is extremely common for visitors to zoos whom are less knowledgeable about the animals in question to complain about perceived neglect. This can even happen if  you upload a video to Youtube 'roughousing' with your pet dog.

The sheer irony is that the particular distressed pilot whale would have succumbed to the same fate had it been left in the wild. The animal was rescued from a mass stranding and deemed unreleasable by the federal government. So while many people may have an anti-captivity ‘animals belong in the wild’ position, this animal wouldn’t be alive without human intervention and captivity. That is the reason I wrote this article.  


  1. Gold. SO MUCH BRILLIANCE. You are an amazing writer and thank you for putting into words EVERYTHING I could not articulate calmly

  2. Thanks for your support Jaquielyn.

  3. Thanks. It makes no logical sense that anyone would intentional neglect an animal that is an asset to their livelyhood. Seeing that the trainers were aware of the problem, this is a logical conclusion. The screaming we hear in the background is no-doubt because of the rain. Slide out's are indeed a natural behavior, and it makes sense that the trainers would allow the animals time to solve the problem themselves, and an animal in the wild would have to do exactly the same thing, solve the problem itself.