15 min read

From Seaworld Supporter to Blackfish Advocate

<p> Opening One Ocean/Author </p>

I've have been a loyal Seaworld supporter for a long time. I supported Seaworld because of their conservation efforts and how they would inspire others to make a difference. Whales, especially the humpback whale, were one of my favorite whales. I have felt inspired by Seaworld to care for their natural world.

I started going to Seaworld after obtaining an annual pass for my birthday. With that, I could visit the park as many times as I wanted. During that time, I wondered to myself "how awesome would it be to be to work at Seaworld?". After all, Seaworld employees were looked at as animal ambassadors, someone of importance. Seaworld trainers were looked at as experts as they were put on very high pedestals not only by bloggers but by Seaworld themselves. Some of the more extreme Seaworld fans would lash out at non-trainers who had degrees in marine biology and Seaworld themselves would steer the public away from them.

After applying for a job at Discovery Cove, one of Seaworld's sister parks, I was very ecstatic when I got the job. Not only was this my first job, but it was at a place I wanted to go to. I felt that working there, I was helping the animals. I was important. Friends congratulated me on getting the job. My job was simply to clean the bathrooms and the patios. It wasn't working with animals but it was something I could have worked toward.

I've always been an open minded person, even as a strong Seaworld supporter. I've watched the movie Blackfish many times and asked questions. I supported known scientists and marine biologists for their work, even though they were against Seaworld. Even respected the rescue efforts of PETA, however I was quiet about my respect for them because PETA was despised by Seaworld.

I would get death threats and insults because I supported Seaworld, but I never ignored activist comments and would respect their opinion. I wanted to know more about the anti-captivity perspective on Seaworld and because of that, I made friends with many activists and added more people to my respect list.

However, when I got my job, many things have changed. For one, I had to put my initial dream of being a whale watch naturalist on hold. Before, I supported Seaworld, I've wanted to work with humpback whales out in the wild, and educate people about them. However, as I got more involved with Seaworld, I started to notice how the trainers interacted with the animals and how trainers were put high on a pedestal. Not only that, but I felt that if I saw the whales in the wild in person, I would turning by back on the company since they pride themselves on their animals being better off at their parks than in the wild.

I quickly learned that my freedom of speech was limited. I couldn't post any concerns as freely as I could before in fear that loyalists would report me. This I quickly learned in light of the John Hargrove incident. John Hargrove was a former trainer I have gained respect for as a Seaworld supporter. There was a video that surfaced on the internet featuring an extremely intoxicated Hargrove, saying the N word seven times on the phone. I defended him from famous Seaworld blogs because I felt that Hargrove shouldn't be judged on a five year old video, but rather be judged for his actions today.

I had heard of the release of his new book, "Beneath the Surface". I wanted to read the book because I want to learn about his experience as a former trainer. Since I worked with Seaworld, I had a new dream of wanting to be a Seaworld trainer myself. I decided to buy the book from a friend. I had brought the book with me everywhere, including my job. I only took it out during break to pass the time. During my readings, I had found out some disturbing things such as calf separations and discrimination. I questioned the trainers at Discovery Cove about separating dolphins and depriving them of food. I also questioned them about the small maze like pens they were in and the shallow area itself.

The answer was all the same, no they don't separate calves from their mothers. No they do not cut their food supply to make them obey and the dolphins are thriving in their pens and are not forced to interact. Not at Discovery Cove, not at any Seaworld park. In the back of my mind, I knew something was wrong. Their answers seemed scripted to me. I felt that their answers weren't from their hearts but rather from what Seaworld tells them to say. The answers given to me were word for word on their website. Other trainers did give me strange looks when I would read the book as well and talk to me about how awful Hargrove was.

I had gotten into debates with well-known Seaworld blogs about their smear campaigns against Hargrove. They couldn't understand why I was defending him, not only as a supporter but as a person of color. I defended him for his character. I respected him, no matter if I was for or against Seaworld.

That day that I hit a wall out of anger and stress from my ride not showing up... was my last day. When I was terminated from my job, it had put me in a dark place. I felt lonely, that everything I work toward was gone. My dreams of being that trainer, that expert were gone. That dream of being side by side with the whales was gone. That dream of ever working with an animal was gone. That dream of my animal expertise being put to use was gone. I felt that life wasn't worth living. Everything was gone.

I was told that hitting a wall was against company policy because it was considered violence. I had never gave the impression that I was a threat to others, but it was still against policy.

Friends helped me, even gained some unlikely allies. I had then learned that there have been employees at Seaworld and their parks that have done worse than me, but still kept their jobs. I've seen people get angry and kick things on the job. I've also heard of pedophiles working for the park as well and people who made racist remarks but still hold positions there. It hurt me that there were people who did worse than me but somehow I am a danger to everyone around me.

I came to the conclusion along with a few friends that I was put out because I've questioned the company and I might have been reported. I was open about reading Hargrove's book, however I thought Seaworld would be more open minded about being questioned and about the book itself. To think I was a threat to Seaworld was something I couldn't wrap my head around. Also, the day I was let go was only a couple of days after trainers and other higher ups have talked to me about the book.

Ever since then, I have distanced myself from the company. I've done more research and was able to express concerns I've had on the job about their animals. I have been more free to defend whoever I wanted and respect whoever I wanted. My dream of being a trainer is gone, however I used that time to restart my dream of being a whale watch naturalist. During that time, I had lost friends. However, the friends who mattered, even if they supported Seaworld, stayed.

Efforts have been made to silence me which include making smear posts about me portraying me as a mentally disturbed individual who needed to be locked up in a mental ward. All for speaking out against Seaworld. This is further from the truth.

However, it is much easier to believe that I am a mind-controlled mentally unstable freak, than it is to believe the truth. The tide is turning on Seaworld. More people, including celebrities, are boycotting Seaworld's business practices. More people are being receptive to the information presented in the work of scientists, conservationists and former trainers who are also speaking out against the company.

In closing, we do not want Seaworld to shut down. The employees who work for Seaworld's parks care for the animals, which is why I wanted to work there in the first place. However they were working for a company who never cared about the animals as much as they have. We want them to stop the shows, stop the circus acts, release their animals to sanctuaries so not only can people see them and be better educated, but they are also free to be animals, without the expectations of man.