If you had it to do all over again, would you participate in any way with Blackfish? Why or why not?
My first steps into Blackfish were truly honorable. At that time, I was lead to believe that this film was being created with the intentions of accomplishing a positive change for the animals I cared for during my career at SeaWorld while honoring the memory of Dawn and the powerful impact she had on the lives of the animals and so many people. Initially, I hoped to speak about opportunities to provide something even greater for the animals and how I felt SeaWorld could make a more powerful impact on the lives of both the animals and the trainers. As I started to form these connections amongst those involved with the film, I began to feel prompted to compromise my own core values that centered around my love and respect for the animals in order to fit into the agenda of Blackfish. My conscience began to bother me as I felt a disconnect between my core beliefs and that which I was saying and doing to fit into the agenda of the film.
I began to learn how to ask the right questions, and with them the inconsistencies within the stories entwined in Blackfish were revealed to me. Slowly, unsettling answers revealed that the message of Blackfish was no longer one of hope and inspiration. Instead, I felt it shift towards frivolous accusations and fabricated stories in a craftily edited attempt to paint SeaWorld as evil. My message of truth, respect and opportunity was absent as the filmʼs message had morphed into one that exploited two tragic losses in the interest of perpetuating an activist agenda.
I never intended on becoming involved with a film set on villainizing SeaWorld. Being with the whales at SeaWorld was the best time of my life. During my association with the film, I was operating in a fluid environment, filled with uncertainties and conflicting emotions and values. In the past few months, I have returned to my own core values. The relationships I had with the animals and my time at SeaWorld were integral in instilling these values of honesty and respect within myself. By no longer compromising my own experiences and beliefs, I hope to better represent a more respectful role that not only speaks out for the animals, but also those of SeaWorld being unfairly criticized as they continue dedicating so much while caring for the animals. These trainers sacrifice every day to give their best and they deserve to be viewed as compassionate heroes. The ten years I spent caring for the animals represent the culmination of a dream that started when I was 3 years old. I will never be anything less than proud of my time at SeaWorld and all the things I accomplished caring for the animals. SeaWorld blessed me with an opportunity that not only allowed me to live my dream of connecting with and caring for the killer whales but also to share that dream and inspire others to pursue the same.
I feel like I gained a unique insight to the corruption that plagued that movie. Sharing that helped dispel the fallacies in the film, but that association I had caused a lot of hurt and confusion for so many people who I admire greatly. Compromising my own beliefs to fit into a group of people I hold no respect for cost me relationships I’d give anything to gain back. My mistake in being involved with that briefly wasn’t worth the pain I caused to people I always saw as family.
What would you say to someone who decided not to visit SeaWorld because they just watched Blackfish?
–Iʼve always been very open and honest about my what Iʼve experienced these past couple of years. I believe that by sharing first hand knowledge I acquired during my brief involvement with the film will reveal a more appropriate depiction of what honestly motivated those involved in making the film and what continues to motivate them now. Itʼs all very self-serving. The strongest examples of animal welfare experts are those dedicating their lives to the animals each and every day. They are sweating in wetsuits, not parading on red carpets. SeaWorld is about actions and proactive initiatives. Those opposed to SeaWorld have nonsensical answers, only confusing, poorly constructed, half thoughts fueled by anger. SeaWorld contributes to making a positive difference. Only the subjects in the film benefit in any way. Why would you want to support something not at all about what’s in the best interest of the animals?
I honestly believe that, by sharing my experiences from my ten years at SeaWorld, I can use these experiences as a way to encourage others to take the same path and dedicate their own lives to caring for animals responsibly. Being with the whales at Sea World was the best time of my life. Those pictures represent a culmination of a dream that started when I was 3 years old. I loved the whales and continue to love them. I will never be anything less than proud of my time at Sea World and the things I accomplished with the whales. It was a magical time that allowed me to live my dream and share it with others.
Do you think the criticism of SeaWorld by people who appeared in Blackfish is justified, or was SeaWorld judged unfairly in the film?
— SeaWorld was an easy target. Frustrations from shortcomings of some of these trainers were displaced and projected onto a park that’s setting the bar in animal care and their facilities. If people asked the right questions, they’d realize they are listening to individuals who hardly, if ever at all, worked with killer whales. These same people have a brief blip in the timeframe of SeaWorld’s existence. Most people wouldn’t hold someone’s opinion as valuable when s/he had just a few months worth of experience. Their insight isn’t anything important or groundbreaking. Add to that it happened nearly three decades ago… Their take on SeaWorld would have been a history book that was burned and banned long ago. SeaWorld is constantly evolving to be bigger, better, stronger and a leader in animal care. These trainers in Blackfish are just a brief footnote in a long-discarded textbook at the bottom of a bookstore bargain bin.
What is your opinion of SeaWorld’s Blue World Project? Do you think it will improve or enhance the daily lives of SeaWorld’s Killer Whales?
–I’m ecstatic! This is what SeaWorld is about. Growing for the better and giving the best to the animals in there care. But, wait! There’s more! SeaWorld is also donated a massive amount of money towards research and conservation of the dwindling population of the Southern Residents.
We know that SeaWorld has pledged $10 million to help sustain wild Killer Whale populations. Have any proceeds from Blackfish been used to aid in protecting wild Killer Whale populations?
— From what I was told, questions regarding this were not allowed in any of their Reddit AMAs. Avoidance at its worst. Standard response from the activist brigade seems to be,”No comment.” As far as I know, to this day, no animals were helped in the making of this film.
Do you think SeaWorld cares for their animals to the best of their abilities?
— It’s an honor and a privilege that very few get the opportunity to be a part of. Being a trainer is about genuine passion, selfless sacrifice, and endless dedication each and every day. I will never be anything less than proud of my time at SeaWorld and all the things I accomplished caring for the animals. Being an animal trainer, you are blessed with an opportunity to not only live out your own dream but also to share that dream with thousands of others and hopefully inspire them to pursue the same dream of devoting their best to caring for the animals.
SeaWorldʼs care and research is the pinnacle of the industry. I was fortunate to be a part of several different research projects throughout my ten years there. From visual acuity to respiratory capacity, there was ample opportunity to add to our knowledge of killer whales through the research projects made possible by facilities like SeaWorld. Since I was young, the most impressive contributions to our understandings of the cetaceans all came from zoological facilities like SeaWorld. One of my favorite revelations is one that came recently from a SeaWorld park. Because of their dedication to research, we now know that killer whales are capable of learning different dialects of communication. Unbelievable.
As far as care, you will never meet anyone more dedicated to their job than the trainers and zookeepers of SeaWorld. Each and every day centers around providing the very best for the animals in their care. It is a responsibility that, as a trainer, you take to heart. There is not a moment in your life that you are not prepared to drop anything you are doing to answer to the needs of your animals. The passion and love for the animals fuels a trainerʼs drive to do the best and give everything they can to the animals each time they step poolside.
Many anti-captivity activists have called for SeaWorld to relocate their whales to sea pens. Do you think that would positively or negatively affect the whales?
— There is absolutely no benefit for the animals. It’s a death sentence! Most photos I’ve seen of sea pens are smaller and shallower than SeaWorld’s facility. It’s more like one of the most misguided, horrible ideas ever on so many levels. These ideas of sea pens being introduced haphazardly to Congress are done so on a whim to capitalize on this so-called “Blackfish effect” without thorough thought or consideration to what’s truly in the best interest of the animals. These so-called animal welfare acts are in all actuality a death sentence for the animals they involve. Bills are being presented in a way that seems more like incomplete sentences in their attempt to tell the masses that whales need to be re-released, even though they don’t know exactly the who, what, when, where, why or how of the situation. It’s again a very egocentric way of force-feeding their radical activist agenda to the gullible masses without any legitimate rhyme or reason. I’m relieved AB2140 has been pushed aside. Sea pens would compromise the safety and well-being of not only the animals, but also the trainers. The sad reality of the situation is that this isn’t the first time that our generation has seen such a gross misrepresentation of animal welfare. Keiko is an excellent example of how attempting to re-release an animal at any cost causes more harm to the animal than good. I, personally, loved reading Mark Simmon’s book, Killing Keiko. It provides much needed insight into what truly happened during the attempt to re-release the star of Free Willy once the message of the project’s activist influence took precedence over what was in the best interest of the Keiko’s well-being. With Keiko, we have a disheartening example of what extremes these self-proclaimed scientists are willing to go to, all in the arrogant pursuit of proving their point. I certainly pray that society continues this trend in seeing through this and steps forward to prevent such a sad chapter of our history from repeating itself.
In your years of experience as a SeaWorld trainer, were you ever told to force an animal to perform or instructed to withhold food from an animal who refused to perform?
If given the opportunity, would you return to your job at SeaWorld?
I loved my job. I love my SeaWorld family. I love my memories and the relationships I was blessed to have with so many amazing animals. As amazing as that chapter of my life was, I’m excited to see what the next one has in store for me. SeaWorld has a phenomenal team of trainers and zoological care staff doing great things now. The animals are in wonderful, caring and capable hands. That and Kansas would make for quite a commute.