SeaWorld “Bullies Its Employees,” Ex-Trainer Claims Animal Care Is Declining

in SeaWorld

Guests watch an orca show at SeaWorld

Credit: Joseph Stalin, Unsplash

A former SeaWorld Orlando employee has claimed that the park is mistreating both its employees and animals.

Since the release of Blackfish (2013), negative opinions about SeaWorld’s theme parks have become increasingly common. The documentary – which followed Tilikum, a killer whale involved in three of the four fatal attacks of orcas on humans – puts forward a pretty convincing argument that marine mammals do not belong in tanks.

Killer whales during Orca Encounter at SeaWorld Orlando
Credit: SeaWorld

Related: Is SeaWorld Getting Rid of Its Killer Whales?

SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego, and SeaWorld San Antonio have all made several key changes since the documentary’s release. Its orca breeding program was axed in 2016, making the current generation the last to live in SeaWorld’s parks. Trainers are also no longer allowed in the water with killer whales, and shows have shifted to educational presentations rather than entertainment.

While there are still those who refuse to visit SeaWorld parks, others have taken these changes in stride and accepted them as significant attempts to improve the care given to its animals.

Killer whales jump out of the water at SeaWorld San Diego
Credit: Pray It No Photography, Flickr

However, a former SeaWorld trainer has penned an essay for The Orlando Sentinel about their time working at the park to claim that SeaWorld’s quality of care has declined massively in the past decade.

Valerie Greene, who worked as an animal trainer at SeaWorld Orlando from 2005 to 2016, claimed that Dawn Brancheau’s death (which sparked the production of Blackfish) was a turning point for the park.

“In the aftermath of Dawn’s death, OSHA regulations dictated the types of interactions we could have with the killer whales, including the banning of waterwork,” she said. “The removal of waterwork interactions didn’t just erase intimacy from SeaWorld’s shows; it erased the intimacy in the whales’ lives too.”

A trainer feeds Keiko
Credit: Thomas Hawk, Flickr

Brancheau was famously killed by Tilikum during a Dine With Shamu show. The orca – who had already killed two other humans prior to this point, including a man who climbed into his tank several years earlier – pulled Brancheau into the water by her ponytail and left her with “multiple traumatic injuries and drowning.”

Greene – who was a first responder on the day of Brancheau’s death – added that “Dawn’s death and the ensuing regulatory and public pressure marked the end of the quality of care necessary for killer whales to thrive in captivity.”

As an example, Greene pointed to another incident in June 2022 that she believes would not have happened if SeaWorld gave its animals the care and attention they require.

A few Orca Whales perform tricks and stunts during a show at SeaWorld as Guests look on from the stands.
Credit: SeaWorld

Related: Trainers Accuse Theme Park of Killing Orca, Updates Given

“Liz [Thomas, an old-time SeaWorld trainer who inspired Greene to join the industry] was injured while picking paint chips out of one of the whale’s mouths,” Greene explained. These paint chips can be deadly if ingested. “SeaWorld’s pools should never have been allowed to deteriorate to the point where paint was chipping off the walls,” she added.

The incident detailed by Greene involved a two-and-a-half-ton killer whale known as Malia. Reports claimed that the trainer involved had broken SeaWorld’s three-foot rule when the whale bit, then “immediately” released her. She was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center and underwent surgery for multiple fractures in her forearm and wrist.

A sea lion on a rock by a pool at SeaWorld Orlando
Credit: SeaWorld

Considering previous incidents at the park, one would assume that SeaWorld would celebrate the fact that this was a near-miss rather than a deadly incident. However, Greene claimed that SeaWorld blamed Thomas and “moved her out of Shamu Stadium — her home of 40 years.”

Thomas subsequently left SeaWorld and “moved on with her life,” according to Greene.

However, she added that “watching this felt like a smack in the face to SeaWorld’s animal trainers. I thought the trainers were important to the SeaWorld brand, but this proved that assumption wrong. SeaWorld cannot claim to be pro-animal welfare when it bullies its own employees.”

What are your thoughts on SeaWorld theme parks? Let us know in the comments!

Be the first to comment!