Did SeaWorld plant shills at Whalefest for John Hargroves’ talk?

Let me set the scene: Ex SeaWorld Trainer John Hargrove, who worked at SeaWorld for a number of years and was privy to what the public never saw: the sinister side of keeping captive orca in barren concrete tanks, is doing a 45 minute talk in the large auditorium at Whalefest, Brighton Centre, UK – which is the biggest festival for cetaceans in the world. He has already had two young ladies run out in front of him holding a white banner with red writing that reads: ‘Hargrove is a Hypocrite’ – which is he bemused about. He says that the banner was ‘better than the coffee’.

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John Hargrove on stage in the main auditorium at Whalefest 2015

Despite giving a thorough speech about SeaWorld and the way the company manipulate orca aggression towards the trainers by muddling facts and outright lies, he has problems with the audio part in his speech. Whilst waiting for the audio to be fixed he asks if anyone has any questions. One lady who is from America asks a ‘sensible’ question (which I cant remember). Hargrove answers it, then she comes back with a more aggressive question. She is asked to leave.

Then Hargrove takes a question from another member of the audience. When he finishes that – he motions the lady who is standing just two rows behind me to ask a question. She is given a microphone by the Whalefest crew. At first it is sensible enough and with no hint of aggression: ‘ I understand that you were a senior trainer at SeaWorld, so what did that encapture as far as taking of other trainers goes and what role do they really play at SeaWorld?’. Hargrove answers. She interrupts him with her next comment which to me seems to be ‘off’.  The terminology she uses doesnt seem right: ‘So they (SeaWorld) are not just throwing everyone into the water and you have a clear understanding that you are putting yourself in dangerous situations.’ I can see where this is going – she is attempting to absolve SeaWorld of any responsibility of trainers getting hurt or even killed and putting the onus on the him and the other orca trainers.

Her questioning is following the same pattern as the first lady who was asked to leave: the first question is a general one about him being a trainer then they go in for the kill with the follow up questions and interrupting him as he is trying to speak. The audio for Blackfish is finally ready to go  – I am not sure if Hargrove has picked up on her aggression or if he just wants to carry on with his presentation: ‘… your question and I know they have the audio’. She jumps in quick: ‘I am just trying to comprehend as somebody who was so high up on his way into management after so long there and you spoke earlier about some incidents in 2006 and some people were killed and you continued to work there through 2012 up until two weeks before Blackfish before you started interviewing for them. It just seems a bit opportunist to me…’ At  this point I have had enough – I just want to see Hargroves’ presentation – all these interruptions are vexing me. I shout: ‘Go away’ out of frustration and as the lady is just two rows behind me I turn around and film her. Ric O’Barry is in the same row as me and I can see him shaking his head. Other people groan and chime in.

Now she has the microphone – she is doing what she came to do: antagonise him and the audience and it does not look like she is going to back down anytime soon.

At this point – she should have been asked to leave but the organisers and guests (maybe naively, including me) were not expecting this. She says ‘How can you go to work everyday and put…’ I cant hear what she says because now I have had enough and to me this seems so suspect as she is the second American lady to be aggressive with the questioning. Has she been ‘planted’ in the audience?  I respond with  ‘Go away you shill!’ She is still speaking: ‘How can you take a paycheck?’  In the background I can hear someone say ‘Come on. Get out.’

The microphone has been taken away from her and but she ‘How can you pay to put other people in danger…I couldnt.’ Ugh. Life is not clear cut nor is it black or white. She seems very self righteous. People start shouting  ‘Get out!’ She comes back with ‘How could you work somewhere for 15 years and put someone in danger.’  Hargrove replies: ‘You have asked a question and I would like to answer it – I have listened to you…’ then Hargrove still being professional, in my opinion, answers her question.

He is aware of how aggressive she is being and she will not back down. She interrupts him as he is talking about the previous trainer deaths of Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque and Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando:: ‘But you still went to work the next day.’ I repeat ‘Go away you shill!’ My father sitting next to me tells me to be quiet as he reminds me that everyone is allowed to have an opinion. He is missing the point though:  I reply: ‘They have been planted! They have been planted!’

Hargrove replies: ‘…you are not going to walk out the door, you love these animals…’ She comments: ‘So you dont leave when you can work at Blackfish’. It has now descended into an argument on her part and with audience members (including me) shouting at her.

Hargrove seems like he has had enough: ‘there is a part of a question that doesnt make sense to me…’ I am beyond frustrated: ‘Can you get security on this!’ I say out loud.  Hargrove is still engaging with her by answering her questions.

I turn around to her and say again: ‘We know that you are a shill and are on the paycheck’ (for SeaWorld). She replies ‘I am not.’ I come back with: ‘You are on the payroll! You are on the payroll! You are on the payroll! You have had your five minutes of fame. Go home!’  I sound like an old fish wife – not my finest hour. But what can ya do?

She then leaves the auditorium and the audio is finally working and Howard Garrett pops up on screen as the presentation continues. Hargrove doesnt seem too fazed. As this is a controversial subject and he has got a book coming out shortly, he probably expects this. She probably isnt the first to question him so aggressively and no doubt she wont be the last.

Obviously everyone is entitled to their own opinion – if you do not agree with Hargrove being a trainer for all those years then coming over to the pro freedom side and releasing a book about his experience working for SeaWorld, then fine. Maybe some people thought he waited too long before he left SeaWorld but his reply to that is he loved those orca. I think that it is easy to judge someone when we are not in their situation. The important thing is that now – Hargrove is on the right side of history and is trying to bring about change in the captive cetacean world.

To those two young women in the audience: Be honest and say what you gotta say – in an assertive but non confrontational way. Dont be sly by asking a question all polite and calm – then keep trying to antagonise the person and interrupt them when they are trying to answer the question/accusations that have been directed towards them. You lose the argument.

I do regret saying what I did to the young woman – I should have just let her say what she wanted to say – that way it would not have put me in a bad light aswell. We are lucky that we are in a country where we are allowed free speech. I think that I said what I did because it was down to frustration on my part.

Let me know your opinion. Do you think that she was a SeaWorld shill? Or just someone who has the view that John Hargrove is an opportunist who worked for SeaWorld then jumped ship to come over to the anti captivity movement?

If the lady in question was an individual who had beef with Hargrove – I wonder if she thought the entrance money that she paid to get into Whalefest was worth it? It probably was to her.

Does anyone know who the two American ladies that asked these questions during Hargroves talk? Or the two young girls who had the held the banner: ‘Hargrove is a hypocrite’ – If so please get in touch – I offer them a right to reply.

The issue of captivity and peoples choices in life are not clear cut nor are they black or white – unlike an orca 🙂

If the two young women who were asking the aggressive questions are on the SeaWorld payroll then just wow. The anti captivity, pro freedom movement for cetaceans has come too far now: There is no turning back. If SeaWorld have flown people over to the UK for Whalefest – the biggest pro freedom festival for cetaceans in the world – this means they are running scared. With ex trainers coming over to the pro freedom side after seeing what they see happening to the captive cetaceans – our voices are getting bigger.

All of us are helping to make an impact – we gotta keep chip, chip, chipping away at that captivity wall and one day it will fall.

At the end of the day: Both of the women got their 5 minutes of ‘fame’, Whalefest is getting bigger and bigger (the marine parks around the world know this), it even more publicity for Hargroves’ new book, he is welcomed into the pro freedom family for cetaceans and I get to write this blog.

Everyones a winner! And word on the street is that Hargrove really enjoyed Whalefest. He done meet and greets, participated in talks and debates and even helped out with the ‘Free Morgan’ raffle. Magic.

Now lets stop the SeaWorld breeding programme and lets get these orca and dolphins to seapens.

We got alot of work to do.

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Emotional visit to see Lolita and I get asked to leave Miami Seaquarium

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Finally after what seems an eternity the metal shutters open up and park guests are allowed into the killer whale stadium to watch Lolita perform her twice daily show.

A brief background for readers who do not know much about Lolita’s plight. Lolita was captured in August 1970 in Puget Sound. Her original name is Tokitae. She was purchased for about $6,000 and has been at Miami Seaquarium in a tiny whale bowl ever since. Another orca called Hugo had been at Miami Seaquarium for two years prior. Hugo and Lolita shared the same tank which is  60-foot by 80-foot by 20 feet deep for about 10 years before Hugo died in 1980. Since then Lolita has only had a few dolphins to keep her company.

Howard Garrett who is the president of the Orca Network has Lolita’s retirement plan written up and desperately wants to get Lolita to a sea pen. Here is details of the plan: http://www.orcanetwork.org/Main/index.php?categories_file=Retirement

With my cellphone on record I enter the stadium and when I spot Lolita I get very emotional. My voice breaks and say ‘Hello girl. This is hard.’ I immediately think of a lady whom I met at this years Whalefest – the biggest whale festival in the world which is held in the UK. Her name is Rita who is also from the UK. Rita adores Lolita – the same way I adore Tilikum. Neither whale has had it worse than any of the other captives but sometimes one captive whale will capture your heart. Words cannot explain why one particular whale is your favourite. They just are. Through the tears I say that I wish that Rita was with me.

I walk round the tiny tank to get a better look at Lolita. She is beautiful. She is being fed dead fish by her trainers at the small ‘island’ of the pool. I immediately spot her teeth and they are magnificent. I have never seen a captive orca with all their teeth before. Because of boredom captive whales usually bite on the metal gates that separate the pools. Their teeth then have to be drilled down to the pulp. With no anesthetic. Maybe Lolita still has her teeth as there are no metal gates here. There is no need with just this one tiny pool.

The music is blaring and I see that there is no shade for her in the 90 degree heat. I tell Lolita that she has lawyers and thousands of people working for her (this is probably an exaggeration in hindsight – probably hundreds). I say that we got to get her to that seapen and back to her Mum. (There is a seapen area waiting for Lolita in Washington State).

I notice that Lolita goes between almost lying motionlessly still – sometimes near the bottom of the tank then switches to chasing one of the dolphins that are also in the tank. Is this what years of captivity have done to her?

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Lolita laying almost motionless

I only spend five minutes filming – I want to find someone whom I can ask a few questions to and express my disgust that this is not okay at keeping this 20 foot long, 7,000 pound beautiful creature in this tiny barren tank with no shade.
Below is the short five minutes of footage I filmed of Lolita:

I dont have much time to try and find someone as the show will be starting any minute. I am not staying as I dont want to watch young men and women riding on Lolita. I walk towards the other side of the stadium where I see the trainers and a female worker wearing the blue Miami Seaquarium staff t-shirt. I call the worker over.

The worker is polite enough. I go straight in for the kill: ‘I just want to say I have never seen a tank so small in my life. How does she get exercise? How does she get mental stimulation?’ She replies: ‘You will see in the show that she gets plenty of exercise she actually moves very well and is able to swim and jump… this is definitely not the largest pool in America.’ I am surprised that the worker is agreeing with me but what can she say? I know that I am not the first person who must have said this to the staff here.

I ask ‘Can they not build a bigger pool for her?’ Then worker looks at my cellphone suspiciously so I have to put the phone down by my leg. Because of the awful loud voice that is booming over the speakers the rest of the conversation is inaudible. She replies in broken sentences that dont make sense. ‘She has been here since 1970, so um.. that was when the pool was built’. I say that there is a sea pen waiting for her and she says to me ‘No there isnt’. I dont think that the worker is aware there is aa seapen area waiting for Lolita in Washington State. I say to her ‘Yes there is.’ She replies ‘We will never release her.’ Ugh. Us whale warriors will see about that. I also say that I am concerned as there is no shade for Lolita and am worried that her skin can get burnt. The worker tells me that Lolita’s skin cannot get burnt… I thank her for talking to me and leave. I say goodbye to Lolita and am glad that I am leaving the unbearable loud music behind. Then I feel guilty: Lolita has to listen to it everytime she performs a show. I am lucky: I can leave. Lolita and the other captives have to stay.

I have got my footage so now I can get the hell out of this awful depressing place. As I am walking out I see a young guy near the dolphin tank towards the front of the park who was there when I arrived a couple of hours ago. I ask him if he has seen Blackfish. I see him step a couple of paces back from me. It makes me smile. He says he hasnt. Then I say that I cant believe how small that tank is. He tells me that alot of people have also said that to him. I tell him that people are trying to get Lolita to a seapen. He just looks at me. I really do think the average worker here has no idea what a seapen is. I wish him a good day and walk towards the exit and where guest services is. Before I go I want the staff at Miami Seaquarium to know that this visitor is not okay with killer whale captivity. Obviously I understand that they dont care. I am a realist. But I cant leave here and not let them know how I feel.

I appoach guest services and ask one of the workers behind the counter if I can speak to a manager. The young man picks up the phone when another worker in his fifties approaches me and asks me if he can help. The young man puts the phone down and I speak to this older man. I ask him very politely and calmly if they can build Lolita a bigger tank. He stares at me for what feels about five seconds then says to me: ‘I am going to have to ask you to leave Ma’am.’ Bingo. It hits me that Miami Seaquarium must get people asking this all the time. It doesnt matter that I am polite and at only 5 foot 3 inches tall and on my own, I do not pose much of a threat – they must have a zero tolerance rule here for guests asking this question. I reply ‘Am I not allowed to ask a question?’ He replies flatly: ‘No.’ Then he says to me: ‘You are not allowed to film in here.’ Which is a strange thing to say as my camera and cellphone are in my bag which is zipped up. I put my bag and bottle of water on the counter to show him that I am not filming. But I know it is just an excuse. I start crying again and ask if there is an email contact whom I can write to. He writes down the managing directors contact then rips it up then writes down the public relation email address. Through the tears I start saying to him over and over again ‘Its very sad.’ I feel vulnerable and upset. He replies that the tank is within government regulations. I know that this is rubbish but I dont want to start arguing with him. Lolita’s tank is only 35 feet wide from the slideout area. The animal welfare act say it should be a minimum of 48 feet wide. More information about this: http://www.miamiseaprison.com/tank.htm

The worker is polite with me despite telling me that I had to leave. Despite crying, I make sure that I am polite and thank him for the email contact he has given me. I am just so relieved when I walk through the exit gate. It feels that it has been the longest three hours of my life.

It was announced on 7th May 2014 that Miami Seaquarium was sold to Palace Entertainment Holdings. Arthur Hertz who was the owner prior said that between 2000-2013 about $20 million of renovations were carried out at Miami Seaquarium. I think he may be tellng porkys because I sure as hell am not seeing it. Please see my previous blogs about rust on one of the dolphin tanks, a sea lion with cataracts and a cafe that looks something out of the 1970’s. The news article that gives details of the sale: http://www.miamitodaynews.com/2014/05/07/seaquarium-deal-flows-swimmingly/

I was hoping that Arthur Hertz would cut all ties with Miami Seaquarium but sadly the same on site management will remain.

Us Lolita fans can only hope that the new owners, Palace Entertainment holdings, will listen to our concerns and get Lolita returned to the sea where she could either be reunited with her family after 44 years or live out her remaining life in a seapen. People could still care for her but she would have so much space, feel the ocean currents again and learn to hunt and feed for herself without having to do circus tricks.
We must keep fighting the good fight to spread the word about Lolita’s plight.

This blog is dedicated to Rita Evans Barnes.

 

 

Footage of the grounds of Miami Seaquarium and a cafe that looks like it is from the 1970s’

I still have got far too much time to wait before I can get the hell out of Miami Seaquarium – time always slows down when you are not having fun.

I decide to go back to the entrance of the park and film because I want the reader of this blog to see what I am seeing.

At the entrance people can have their picture taken with a parrot – how original. There are also posters celebrating the 50th year anniversary of the television show Flipper. Miami Seaquarum is where some of the scenes were filmed. That show has got alot to answer for – perhaps thats why we have so many captive dolphins  today. It also seems that Miami Seaquarium probably last had a lick of paint 50 years ago.

Even the floor seems cracked. I wonder for the 100th time – how has Miami Seaquarium been allowed to get away with keeping the park in this dilapidated state for so long? Where is the outrage at all of this?

I carry on walking and arrive at one of the dolphin tanks –  just outside are two dolphin statues. They depress the hell out of me – they look so old and people still continue to have their picture taken in front of them.

I say ‘We need to up the fight fellow whale and dolphin warriors. This is not acceptable. Not in 2014. This is not okay.’

I film some machines that look like something out of the 1980’s – big ugly square boxes where for a couple of dollars  people can make their very own whale or dolphin souvenir.

I also want to document on film how quiet it is for a Sunday – if there arent very many people here today what must it be like on a weekday? A ghost town.

Earlier on in the morning I met a young girl who was looking after the parrots and I am going to sound controversial but out of all the animals here they seem to be the best looked after. Their wings are clipped which I agree isnt good, but they seem to be content sitting on their perches and being given treats of apple.

I walk towards the Manatee Bay Cafe – I have to go back in to film for the readers of this blog. Seeing is believing. If you want depression then this is it. It is an awful, awful colour of green and brown.  I say ‘What year are we in?’

I say ‘This is depression. If you wanna get depressed come here… would you eat here? I wouldnt eat here!’ It sounds comical when I listen to it back.

This cafe has to be from the 1970’s. It could be retro if it wasnt a real, open for food and drink cafe. Just looking at the brown booths – I want to slit my wrists. No joke: It is that bad.

One of the workers told me that people complain about the standard of the food in here – no shit Sherlock.

Shame on the owner and shame on Miami Seaquarium.

Here is the footage:

After that I head over to the killer whale stadium. I want to get footage of the outside of it – we only ever seen footage from  inside – I want to show people what guests see when they come here. On film I say ‘This place is a f**cking nightmare. It is something out of the 1950’s. Nothing seems to have changed since they filmed Flipper back in the 1960s.’

There are boards of ‘information’  about wild whales. I cant be the only person who understands the irony here? Miami Seaquarium have pictures and info about wild whales yet they keep a beautiful orca just a few feet away in a whale bowl that is no more than 20 feet deep.

I read some of the text out loud: ‘The whale and dolphin programmes at Miami Seaquarium have given millions of people from around the world the rare opportunity to see these animals exhibit their natural behaviours.’ I retort: ‘Natural? Messing with their food supply so they do tricks like circus monkeys. Yeah thats natural all right.’

I carry on reading this nonsense and rubbish – who writes this?

‘Our whale and dolphin programmes include a sophisticated preventive care programme, daily observations, interactions and the  training programme are designed to enhance our animals physical strength and mental well being.’  I am going to break down some of these points:Training programmes? Orca are already ‘trained’ to be an orca when they are born. ‘Physical Strength’ – What riding on Lolitas rostrum? ‘Daily observations’ – What happens when the last show of the day ends? Does Lolita have someone with her? Or is she on her own with a couple of those dolphins until the next day, when it starts all over again? Groundhog day everyday for Lolita and those other captives.

I say on camera: How long has she (Lolita) been on her own for? 30 years in a barren tank. In the smallest tank ever.’  (When I say on her own I mean without the company of another orca. Hugo another captive orca died in 1980) A good feature about Hugo is here: http://www.freewebs.com/let_toki_go_free/hugotheorca.htm

Miami Seaquarium is a million, zillion, trillion times worse than Seaworld. I am not a fan of SeaWorld but at least the park is well kept.

Then I spot the ‘no public filming’ camera sign again. This is so telling. Miami Seaquarium must know how bad this park looks. They cant defend it. I get angry and swear a bit then I say to Lolita who I cant see but is only feet away ‘We gonna get you to that seapen girl. We got to get her to that seapen.’

Sea Lion with Cataracts at Miami Seaquarium

 

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I have still got a bit of time to kill before I can see Lolita the killer whale who has been in captivity here since the 1970s.

I head to the Sea Lion feeding area: It is a very small pool where the sea lions can be ‘fed’ by the public a few times a day. The pool is tiny. There are a few sea lions in there waiting to be fed.

Normally I wouldnt buy dead fish for the animals but it doesnt look like there are many guests buying food for the sea lions today. I go over and purchase $4 dollars worth of five dead fish.

I make sure that I go to the shaded area so the sea lions wont have to look up into the direct sunlight then I drop the fish into the water. The sea lions gobble it up. That food went too quickly, so I go back and buy another tray of dead fish, then another.

On my 3rd visit back to the fish stand the young staff member tells me to try and feed the big sea lion – I think that she tells me he is 29 years of age and the other sea lions steal his food as he has cataracts so he cant see too well. She tells me not to worry though as each fish the sea lions eat is recorded so they make sure that they dont eat too little or too much. So thats okay then…

I have tried to find an inventory of the sea lions kept at Miami Seaquarium but so far I have been unsuccessful.

She tells me cataracts in sea lions is also common in the wild. I hope that she is telling the truth as I dont know too much about sea lions but suspect it is misinformation. Maybe not directly on her part but she has been told from the top and it filters down to the workers who give out this information to the public.

When I get home I do my own research and see that whilst sea lions may get cataracts in the wild it isnt ‘common’ like the member of staff at Miami Seaquarium has told me. It is common in captivity as the sea lions have to look into direct sunlight when they get fed either by the public or the trainers, plus the chemicals in the water and the reflection of the lightly painted walls of the tanks aggravates their eyes. Ugh. I knew it.

Eye problems in captive pinnipeds is documented here: http://www.oers.ca/journal/volume4/issue2/Gage_Galley.pdf

So I go back to the pool and sure enough I see the white covering his eyes – I stand in the shade and try and make sure that he gets most of the fish that I have bought without having to look into the direct sunlight.

I now regret coming to this hell hole: awful, awful place. I get my phone out and film the sea lion with the cataracts – there are people to the right of me who seem to enjoy just dangling the fish over the bar to tease the sea lions so the animals almost stand up out of the water and they are breaking the fish in half – which the trainers told people not to do. I get vexed with them and you can hear it in my voice – at the end of the footage you can hear me say: ‘They are getting on my f**king nerves.’

I get a minute or two of footage then I go back to buy more food. I spent $20 on fish. Big deal. That isnt going to keep the animals full for very long is it? There are more feeding sessions throughout the day so I hope that people buy food so the sea lions can eat.

If people want to call me a hypocrite for feeding the animals then so be it. All I will say is that you wasnt there and it was horrible just seeing the sea lions swimming around waiting to be fed by the public – who were not buying much fish that day.

I have seen enough – I dont stick around to watch the sea lion show.

Couldnt Miami Seaquarium paint the tanks darker, stop making the animals look up when they are fed and find another way to keep the water liveable for the animals without adding chemicals? Yeah I know I am living in a dream world.

I hope that the time passes quickly until the killer whale stadium opens then I can see Lolita and get the hell out of here.

Miami Seaquarium – how has this been allowed to spiral into such decay?

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No one warned me. Nor had I seen any other footage of Miami Seaquarium. I had only seen footage of Lolita the killer whale in one of the smallest captive killer whale tanks in the world. I wasnt prepared that when I visited Miami Seaquarium that I would be stepping back to the 1950’s.

It starts off pretty enough. Visitors drive over a beautiful bridge into Biscayne Bay – surrounded by water. The irony is not lost on me. The beauty ends as soon as you get to the park gates. Visitors are greeted with this welcoming sign.

 

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As you can see it states that any photos/footage you make isnt allowed for public display: you must get written permission beforehand. Why is that? What do they have to hide? I have seen youtube videos of the dolphin and killer whale shows filmed by ordinary people who visited Miami Seaquarium. Did each and everyone of them get written permission beforehand? Is this just a scare tactic that Miami Seaquarium are using on its paying customers? I am sure that I didnt see any signs like this at SeaWorld. It all seems very suspicious to me.

As soon as I take five paces into the park it becomes all too apparent why there are no filming signs for public display at the front gate: A depression descends on me quick time. It appears as if the park has been left untouched in its original state since when it opened in 1955. The floor has cracks in it and is uneven, the buildings look something out of a bygone era, the public areas look like a concrete jungle with trees on either side – maybe the owners are hoping that the trees will disguise the fact that this marine park looks the same as when Ric o Barry trained captives back in the 1960s.

I am here to see Lolita. She is a magnificent killer whale who was captured in 1970 off of Puget Sound and has lived in what could be possibly one of the smallest ‘whale bowls’ since then. She is in a tank which measures 60-foot by 80-foot by 20 feet deep. She has many, many good people working for her to get her to a seapen so she will have more space, learn to hunt again and possibly be reunited with her family.

I have a couple of hours to kill before she is due to perform her twice daily show so I head to the ‘Top Deck Dolphin’ show. This is one of two dolphin shows at the Miami Seaquarium.
I regret coming here immediately: as I enter I feel like I have been transported back in time. The downstairs area is dark and dingy. The interior doesnt look as if it has seen a lick of paint since it opened. I am in a state of shock and get my cellphone out to film. I film myself walking up the stairs – the stairs are filthy and worn out with black patches on them. There is a door on the stairs which is meant to be white but parts of it look black and is covered in dust. Not for the first time I think how has Miami Seaquarium been allowed to get away with this? Why are we not more outraged at this? We should be.

According to the article below $20 million dollars was spent on renovating the park between 2000-2013 – somehow I am not seeing it. Maybe they just spent all that money painting and decorating the CEO’S offices and forgot to make the tanks bigger or at least give them a clean once in a while?

http://www.miamitodaynews.com/2014/05/07/seaquarium-deal-flows-swimmingly/

I arrive at the top of the stairs and see around six dolphins in a very small barren circular tank which is 20 feet deep. Ugh. They are swimming around in circles – I sense that they are hungry and just want the show to start so they can get fed some dead fish in exchange for performing circus tricks.

There are no seats for the audience. Just standing around the side of the tank – this has some sort of circus/carnival feel. I imagine a voice over a loud speaker booming: ‘Step right up so we can see these magnificent dolphins do some amazing tricks. 25 Cents to take a look.’

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Top Deck Dolphin: Nothing more than a dolphin bowl

There is a mock up of a boat on the left hand side with young trainers at the bow. They cannot be any older than 20 years of age. They stand there with the dead fish in their hands. Just before the show starts the dolphins almost stand up under the bow begging for fish. Once you understand captivity then you can see how wrong this is. Am I the only one who realises this? I am not the most intelligent person in the world and this is so obvious at what is going on here yet no one appears to be outraged or upset about this.

I have got really sensitive ears and the music is booming through the speakers. I say on camera that I would like to smash the speakers with a hammer into a million pieces. How must the captives feel?

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One of the captives in only about 20 feet of water in the blazing Miami sunshine

I spot just inside the tank orange patches = rust. Are they kidding me? And still no one comments on this. I carry on filming for a while then stop whilst I wait for the show to start. I havent seen a dolphin show in years and certainly not one since I got educated about whale/dolphin captivity. I am dreading it as I know what is coming: Dolphins being made to do cheap tricks like circus monkeys in order to be fed. Day in and day out.

The show starts and I start filming again. At one point a dolphin stands on its tail and appears to be ‘walking’ through the water. Ugh. What am I witnessing here? This is okay with everyone? I find it obscene. Have we not progressed since we kept elephants, tigers and lions in cages when they were not performing in circus shows? It appears we havent progressed with getting educated with animal welfare. Not one jot.

7 minutes and 30 seconds into the show (see footage below) I get splashed by a dolphin. I get soaked. I move to the back of the standing area. I feel slightly sick as I can taste the chlorine in my mouth for a couple of hours afterwards.
The young trainer announces that one of the captives has just had a baby and that they could tell how the baby was doing by performing an ultrasound on the dolphin. I bet the dolphin loved that – Do they have ultrasound scans in the wild? Plus she says that the pregnant dolphin had someone with her 24/7 – Miami Seaquarium are all heart. Never mind the rust, the chlorine in the pool and the tiny space – the dolphin had an ultrasound and humans with her 24/7 so that is all good.

She speaks in a monotone voice and seems to be reading from a script.She has learnt her lines well. Her voice drones on and on. She tells parkgoers can name the baby online. On camera I suggest the name ‘Free Me.’

After the show and several attempts to rinse chlorine from my mouth I go and find a worker who is keeping an eye on the dolphins from the bow of the ship.
I keep my camera and phone in my bag.I dont want to raise suspicions. I call her over and ask her some questions. I first ask if Miami Seaquarium has been sold yet. She looks at me as if I have two heads. In fact a few days after this it is confirmed that Palace Entertainment Holdings have bought the marine park.

I ask about the rust on the tank – she says it is just salt water marks. I say that I got splashed by a dolphin and I could taste chlorine. She tells me that there is less chlorine in the tank that what there is in tap water. I have tasted American tap water and it does not taste of chlorine. So I think that she has been sold a lie by her bosses.
She starts to look at me up and down – maybe she wants to make sure that I am not filming. I think that she has realised what I am about but I ask a few more questions. I ask whether the captive dolphins sonar can bounce off the tank walls and upset the dolphins. She tells me that dolphins dont use their sonar all the time and it doesnt bounce off the tank walls. She only has to do a search on Google at how captive dolphins suffer with their sonar bouncing off the inside of the tanks. It is equivalent of humans living in a room full of mirrors and never being able to escape.

I dont think this young girl is intentionally telling me misinformation – she just seems so young and naive.
There is only one good thing that I learn talking to her – I ask the same question I asked at SeaWorld ‘Can the dolphins get live fish?’. She says yes and the sea lions get live fish from time to time too.

This pleases me – it gives the captives some stimulation as nature intended. I tell her that when I asked SeaWorld that question they told me it was ‘unethical to the fish.’ The look she gives me is priceless! I thank her and leave.
I am learning that these marine parks have their own set of protocols when it comes to keeping animals in captivity and they make up their own rules as they go along.

I am on my way to see the sea lions and have no idea that what I will see will upset me so much.

Part 5: Vexed at Dolphin Cove

I am vexed. I havent got the most patience in the world (I take after my Father) and I have had to wait 30 minutes in line to enter the park plus I have had to pay $97 for the privledge of doing so. I am no better than the other park goers. I am a hypocrite. I am struggling with that.

At this point I still dont have any footage of Tilikum nor have I got any footage of a killer whale traner and today is my last chance as I fly home in a few hours.

I head to Dolphin Cove – it looks and sounds amazing. There is caribbean music playing, palm trees, beautiful surroundings and in the middle is a pool with dolphins. Dolphin Cove is an area where you can feed and touch the dolphins throughout the day. I think there are three feeding sesssions each day. Park goers pay around $10 for some dead fish and when instructed feed a dolphin by dropping it into its mouth.

It is easy to be tricked: this area looks perfect; something out of a dream. Until you get a little knowledge of realising that the dolphins are not starved but must be kept quite hungry so they approach strangers who have dead fish. SeaWorld is selling a fantasy and the public are being fooled. The truth is far more sinister.
There seem far too many dolphins in this small space. Some dolphins seem very motionless staying in one spot where the others seem agressive with each other. The water is so shallow.

I head to the far left of the pool and find a SeaWorld handler. I decide to be brave and ask some questions. I want to try and talk to a killer whale trainer later so I cant be too aggressive: I dont want to get ejected from the park.

I approach the trainer but she wont even turn around to look at me. I am not sure why. Maybe she senses that I am a crappy mood? But for the whole time I am speaking to her she stands and looks straight ahead when she answers my questions.

I ask about the average age of the dolphins. She replies ‘About 20 years.’  I think that this is true although some dolphins have been known to live up to 40 years in the wild. She continues by saying: ‘We have had some dolphins live into their 30’s and 40’s’. I want to ask how many of the captives die around four years of age. This is the average lifespan of a dolphin in a marine park. But I cant.

I comment that the water is very shallow and ask can the dolphins get burnt? She tells me that the pool goes all the way round and the deepest area is 20 feet. 20 feet? Are they kidding? If they are going to keep dolphins in these pools cant they at least build them a deeper and wider pool?

I ask if the dolphins are fed of a nightime. She says no. I want to ask do dolphins not eat during the night in the wild then? Instead I ask ‘So will they be hungry now then when people come in to feed them? I am told that they have already been fed. I hope that its true but I cant help feeling that it cant be enough otheriwse the dolphins wouldnt be approaching park goers for food.

I ask: are the dolphins kept in here the whole time. I meant do they get a bigger space to swim in during the night but i think she misunderstands my question as she replies ‘At some point in their lives they maybe moved but they are not moved back at forth on a daily basis.’ With that answer I think that these dolphins are in this shallow pool 24/7.

I say that in the wild they can swim up to 40 miles a day and ask can they get that exercise here: ‘Oh yeah, they are constantly playing with each other, interacting with people… We do training sessions with them so they do high energy behaviours’. That translates do witholding their food source so they do jumps and tricks. There is never in a million years that these dolphins can swim up to 40 miles a day. How many circles would they have to swim round to achieve that?

She goes on to say that ‘you will never find a bored dolphin’. I beg to differ.

There seems a bit of aggression between some of the dolphins. She tells me that they are ‘play breeding’. Has anyone heard that terminology with regards to dolphins before? Please let me know.

She gets called away to start the public feeding session. Her body language spoke volumes. She didnt want to talk to me. Maybe she gets these type of questions asked alot.

I talk to the camera: ‘these dolphins are much bigger in real life’. The park goer next to me must think that I am talking to her as says ‘They are pretty cute though.’

I shouldnt have said anything as I am meant to be asking questions and not preaching to the public but I am in a foul mood and say ‘They shouldnt be in a small tank though… All the chemicals in the water makes them go blind, it isnt good.’ She agrees by saying ‘Yeah the water is pretty blue.’ I need to be careful. If I get overheard by a worker I will probably be ejected from the park. But I am on a roll now: ‘In the wild they can swim up to 40 miles a day.’ She seems surprised and says ‘Really?’ I reply: ‘Look at the space’. She says: ‘Wow.’ I almost go into a rant: ‘How do you get a dolphin to do a trick? You mess with its food supply. You dont feed it.’

Dang. I have said too much. I shouldnt be saying this to people in the park. I decide to leave and hope that no worker has heard me. That wasnt the best thing that I have ever said.

The remaining five minutes is of me ranting on camera: ‘F**k SeaWorld and all they stand for.’

This footage doesnt show me in the best of light but you have to show the rough with the smooth, right?

Part 4: SeaWorld killer trainers would make great politicians

It is my last day in Orlando and I still don’t have any footage of me asking some forbidden questions to a SeaWorld killer whale trainer.

I cant come all this way and not leave without even trying to talk to a trainer. I decide to go back to SeaWorld one last time in the hope that I have the courage to get some footage.

I arrive at Shamu Stadium to watch the rehearsals for the ‘One Ocean’ show. For the first time I see Tilikum. He is in E pool with his grandson Trua. The size of him his heartbreaking. He is is 22.5 feet long and weighs 12,000 pounds and is in a pool which around 25 feet deep. What a horrific way to treat a magnificent animal like that. The main pool where the whales perform is only 36 feet deep.When the show starts he just watches through the metal gates. 

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So far away: Tilikum by the gates of E pool, centre left of the picture, watching the ‘One Ocean’ Show

He isn’t brought out for the big splash at the end but for the rest of the whales – all you can see is those metal gates open and close all the time. They are brought into the main pool to perform then afterwards they must swim to the much smaller holding pools when those gates reopen. This sounds cliché but it does remind me of a prison.

It is so depressing the Stadium is massive and is full to capacity. My heart sinks. They are selling towels and raincoats for people sitting in the splash shows plus popcorn and hotdogs. Ugh.

The show starts with a screen showing wild whales – does SeaWorld miss the irony here? Then it shows a young girl growing up and working for SeaWorld as a trainer and she is shown rescuing animals. The propaganda is so good. The whales come out and do cheap tricks for frozen dead fish whilst the trainers are dancing and clapping to moronic music. I think I must have been transported back to the 1980s as this is the same thing that happened all those years ago, except for the trainers were in the water with the whales riding them. It is so cheesy and when you understanding the implications of captivity it is very disturbing.

The music is so loud that it hurts my ears. Imagine how the captives feel.

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The whales are playing a full house: my heart sinks as still too many people are coming to these out of date shows

I sit through the show and am relieved when it is over. The audience seem to have loved it. To quote George Carlins’ thoughts on humans: ‘I am no better or different. I am just apart.’ This is exactly how I feel watching this show. I need to get to a trainer before they leave the stadium. I follow one male trainer but he goes through a staff door. Dang. I should have spoken to them last week when I was able to. I cant leave here without any footage and I hear someone call my name. It is ‘H’ who is also a fellow whale warrior. She comes to the parks around once a month to see how the whales are doing. Its great to meet someone who has much more knowledge than me about the individual whales. We greet each other then I spot a trainer. I rush over to where she is talking to other park guests but H doesn’t come with me as she doesn’t want to get banned from the park. Which I understand.

Below is a breakdown of the conservation. At the bottom of this page is the footage.

SeaWorld killer world trainers have been to the SeaWorld school of propaganda and bullshit. They use extra words when they don’t need to so it makes them sound more important than they really are. They also speak really fast as if to give them more superiority than the person who is asking questions and will never answer with just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  You also realise that when you watch the footage that some if not most of what they say makes no sense. The terminology they use is laughable: ‘Captivity’ is called ‘Human Care.’ They should run for office. They would make great politicians.

I wait for my opportunity then go in for the kill. I am careful not to try and point the camera in her face.

I ask about the size of the pools and ask if they are kept in the main show pool: I know that they are not. The whales are kept in much smaller pools about 1/4 of the size of the main show pool. She doesn’t give me an outright ‘No’ – she just says that there are seven pools.

I ask about exercise as wild orca can swim up to 100 miles a day in the wild. She replies ‘Yes they can swim several miles a day in the wild’ – Doesn’t several mean two or three but not many? I am learning very quick that she is putting a spin on everything that I am asking. It is clever but not that clever when you see through it all and know the facts.

She then goes on to say that because they don’t have to hunt basically they don’t need to swim as much. Ugh. They have got all the answers planned down to the finest detail.

I ask if they are given jello/jelly. Captives are given this as the frozen fish dehydrates them and also they get stress ulcers in captivity so the jello is meant to help with that. She says it is ‘enrichment’. I ask if whales get jello in the wild and instead of just saying ‘No.’ She says ‘Not specifically, no.’ Their play on words is a masterpiece. Then she goes on to say ‘if we ate like our ancestors we wouldn’t eat cookie and cake.’ I don’t even know what she is talking about here. Answers on a postcard please.

I ask about the whales being given fresh fish. They wouldn’t get dehydrated, it would give them some stimulation and it is what whales are meant to do: Hunt. The trainer says ‘it is ‘unethical’ for the fish. That kills me. SeaWorld don’t mind keeping orca in tiny tanks and mess with their food supply so they do tricks but they are against putting live fish in the tanks. Do wild whales get dead fish aswell then? Nope. I didn’t think so.

I ask if there are any chemicals in the pool and she says no. There is no way that there is not some sort of chlorine in those pools. How else do they keep it clean when the whales defecate?

The only truth she tells me is when I ask her the trick question and ask if Tilikum was born in captivity. I know he wasn’t but I want to hear her reply. She tells me that he was captured by Marineland and when that closed SeaWorld took him. Maybe she is trying to make out that SeaWorld were the saviours in Tilikum’s situation. I am tempted to say but isn’t that like SeaWorld dealing in stolen goods but I refrain from doing so. She says he wasn’t born in ‘human care.’  Good play on words.

I ask if Tilikum could be seapenned. She says that she doesn’t think he would survive. How does she know that? Unless he is much more sick than she is letting on. Which I think he is.

I ask if he has any digestive issues and she says ‘actually he doesn’t have any digestive issues.’  I want to ask then why is he on pounds and pounds of jello a day. But I don’t. I don’t want to antagonise her too much.

I ask if he is on medication. She doesn’t answer but changes the subject.

It came out on April 2nd that SeaWorld have been known to drug their whales by giving them Valium and Xanax.
Article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2594963/Revealed-SeaWorld-whales-pumped-Valium-Xanax-control-aggressive-behavior-animal-rights-group-say-final-straw-crisis-hit-park.html

I make a mistake and say that I can see him in the med pool but it is infact E pool. This confuses things. My journalist skills are basic and I am learning that I need to get things 100% when asking questions otheriwse it undermines my captivity argument.

I am worried since Tilikum killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010 that he gets ignored and doesn’t have any trainers go near him except to hose him down but only when they stand six feet away. She says he still gets interaction. Weird that I don’t see any human interaction between Tilikum and the trainers whilst I am there. I am pleased that he is with his grandson Trua so they can at least keep each other company.
I am feeling a bit braver now so I ask about inbreeding -isn’t that messing with nature? She tries to turn it around and answers ‘but what about humans?’ I quickly reply: ‘But humans have a choice’.

I ask about a whale whom I thought was at Orlando but is infact at SeaWorld San Diego called Kalia – there is footage of her smashing her head back and forth – this probably due to frustration. It is on youtube and is very disturbing. The title is ‘Kalia has a temper tantrum’. I forget her name and say that it begins with a ‘K’. The trainer outright lies and says ‘We have no K whales here.’ What about Katina and Kayla then who are currently at SeaWorld Orlando? There names begin with K don’t they?

Towards the end I feel that my time is running out with her and I don’t want to be ejected from the park. I shouldn’t say it but I do: I say that I think the trainers do a good job but it is misguided and if the whales could choose either being in captivity or the wild then they would choose the wild. She says that no one knows for sure. I reply ‘I do’. I thank her and leave.

H took a snap of me talking to her. The picture shows me looking towards the back pool where Tilikum is whilst the trainer is looking like she wants to punch me in the throat.

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Putting this trainer through her paces whilst I look over toward Tilikum. Picture by H

So I got my questions in but there was so much more that I wanted to ask: about the whales drilled down teeth, about the loud music affecting the whales and about Gudrun: the pregnant whale who not only lost her baby but also bled to death whilst in SeaWorlds’ care.

I shout out goodbye to Tilikum and thank him as it is down to him that I am trying to spread the word at how bad orca captivity is.

I then walk to the park entrance and say goodbye to H and we both comment that the only animals that are truly free here are the wild squirrels and small lizards.

Was it worth the trip? Absolutely. Us whale warriors have alot of work to do. We shall continue to spread the word to help end killer whale captivity ASAP.

Because of Tilikum change has begun.

 

Special thanks to H