40 min read

Let's Not Forget About The Other Trainer Who Died At SeaWorld

While all attention is focused on Tilikum and Blackfish, with SeaWorld and their supporters picking spots off the film, the death of one of their other trainers by an orca born and bred at SeaWorld seems to be going unnoticed.

When defending the actions of Tilikum on the sad day that Dawn Brancheau died, Seaworld had indicated as proven in the Blackfish film that some of the psychological damage caused to Tilikum was actually whilst he was at Sealand and not of their doing. This is true but what is the excuse for Keto?

Had Seaworld reacted in the same way they did after Dawn's tragedy then she would still be here, the trainers would have been out of the water, instead they took the trainers out of the water for one day, then put them back in.

To understand why Keto would kill his trainer, you need to understand the situation Seaworld brought about in Loro Parque, why they created such a tragic and sad mess is known only to them.

(Photo: shamudictionary.tumblr.com)

Keto was one of five orcas born to Kalina, Keet was first born in 1993, Keto in 1995, a stillborn in 1997, Tuar in 1999 and Skyla in 2004. He was full brother to Keet who's father was Kotar, and half brother to the others. He was also half brother to Takara, who's mother Kasatka also mated with Kotar.

As the gene pool is so small at SeaWorld he was also uncle to Trua, Kohana, Halyn, Kalia and Sakari.

When he was very young, he was nicknamed punk, probably because his mother was permanently pregnant or dealing with other calves. His older brother had been moved away at 18 months old to allow his mother to have Keto, Keet was very depressed but was taken in by Haida 2.

It was decided that at age 3 and a half Keto would be moved from Orlando to San Diego to help 'correct' his behaviour, so he too was taken from his mother and moved to another park.

When at aged 5 Keet was also moved to San Diego he was reunited with the brother he had never met, they both got on really well, although Keto was a little rough with him. Sadly his stay and San Diego was short and he was moved to Ohio for a short time and then San Antonio.

Tekoa aged 6 years old when sent to Loro Parque.

Meanwhile in 2000 in Orlando another young male was born at the park to Taima who had to almost immediately be taken from his mother who kept attacking him. Tekoa was close to Kalina and in 2004 they were both moved to San Antonio, where their friendship disintegrated as other orcas claimed Kalina as their friend.

Kohana aged 4 when sent to Loro Parque

In San Diego Keto's niece Kohana was born to Takara at first she seemed very shy and the two became inseparable and at the age of 2 the two of them were moved to Orlando. This was probably as Takara being the daughter of the dominant orca was the princess of San Diego and could do whatever she liked with her mothers protection. She was very spoiled and liked to annoy the other orcas. After the move she had to adjust to a new social structure but she fitted in well.

Skyla aged 2 when sent to Loro Parque

Skyla, Keto's half sister was also separated from their mother Kalina at the early age of 2 as she was deemed independent enough.

Loro Parque

In 2006 these four orcas were deemed excess and were sent to Loro Parque on a 25 year breeding loan on condition any calves belonged to SeaWorld. SeaWorld trainers were sent with them to help the trainers at Loro Parque.

Why SeaWorld sent these particular orcas is entirely known to them. Everyone including SeaWorld knows that orcas live in matriarchal pods, even in the false pods they create in their tanks, they know there is always an older, dominant orca who keeps order in the pool. They sent these four young orcas, on a breeding loan knowing there was no one to breed with other than each other and knowing there was no matriarch to help keep order. They created a pod of dysfunctional youngsters taken from their mothers and families with no one to help them develop or socialize properly.

At the time the loan was announced in December 2005, Jacobs publicly said there was a "financial arrangement," but he declined to give details. What was clear was SeaWorld would be deeply involved in managing its orcas from the moment they arrived in February 2006. SeaWorld personnel oversaw their care and training at Loro Parque, and Brian Rokeach, a senior trainer from SeaWorld San Diego, supervised the training session in which Martínez died. His court statement can be seen here .

When Fred Jabobs was asked if Martínez's death should be considered relevant to OSHA's conclusions regarding SeaWorld and trainer safety he replied "Loro Parque is an independent and highly respected zoological institution with its own protocols. " "Because it is in the Canary Islands, however, it is not subject to OSHA. Because we are contesting OSHA's citations, we are unable to discuss it further, except to reiterate that their allegations reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements of caring for these animals." To make this statement knowing these were SeaWorld orca's under SeaWorld care is just outstanding, as soon as an incident occurs they are no longer under SeaWorld's care, yet everyone knew that they were.

To help make sure Orca Ocean was successful, SeaWorld had trained a group of Loro Parque trainers in their Orlando and San Antonio parks, SeaWorld vet James McBain also visited regularly and had 2 weekly conference calls and SeaWorld could also monitor the orcas through the Loro Parque surveillance equipment. Brad Andrews also flew in at least twice yearly. When the assigned SeaWorld supervisor was away for any reason, SeaWorld would rotate in a temporary replacement. In September 2006, Dawn Brancheau pulled a temporary rotation at Loro Parque, arriving to fill in for Mark Galan.

Orca Ocean officially opened on February 17, 2006, with a gala celebration attended by Loro Parque president Wolfgang Kiessling; August Busch III, then chairman of Anheuser-Busch InBev (which at the time owned SeaWorld); and Adán Martin, then president of the Canary Islands.

The first show open to the general public took place on March 17, 2006, but there were problems with the new pools. They had been coated with a product called Metflex, which hadn't adhered properly. (Metflex and Loro Parque both lay the blame on the other.) And that, in turn, led to orca problems, one week after the opening, Allee says, while a packed stadium awaited, all four whales appeared in the backstage area with strips of Metflex hanging from their mouths and pool paint smeared across their rostrums, or snouts.The park shut down and the orcas had to endure endoscopy procedures to check the Metflex was not in their stomachs. As you can see from the video Keto is not too impressed.

The four young orcas struggled to get along, struggled to find their place in the new falsely created pods and tensions were extremely high.

In an effort to understand and get to know the orcas, Martinez kept a notepad on their behaviors which gives an indication into what life in the tank was like.

In reference to Kohana, he noted "Back to feeling insecure when separated, alone, both in shows & in sessions." In late September, he noted that Kohana's vocalizations and attitude had improved but that she "always has rises & falls in temperament.

He also noted some of the sexual tensions in the pool "Keto is obsessed with controlling Kohana, he won't separate from her, including shows," he wrote. "Tekoa is very sexual when he is alone with Kohana (penis out). Keto is sexual with Tekoa."

On September 2, 2009, he noted that "Brian [Rokeach, SeaWorld's supervising trainer at Loro Parque at the time] had a small incident with Keto the first hour of the morning," and that it was "a very bad day for Keto." On September 12, he wrote, "All the animals are bad. Dry day for Kohana."

Sometimes the tension between the whales would get a very public airing. During one show in the summer of 2007, Tekoa was performing when Keto raced into the show pool, rammed him, and then proceeded to chase him. After the trainers regained control, they completed the performance with Tekoa, even though blood was visibly seeping from his wounds. His final display of behavior was a full-body pose on the main stage. "The last image the audience saw was the stage covered in Tekoa's blood,"

There were many injuries in the pool as the orcas tried to create a pod, without the guidance or security of their mothers.

Tekoa covered in rake marks

Skyla after attack by Kohana Keto's attack wasn't the first in the park. In October 2007, Loro Parque almost lost a female trainer, 29 year old Claudia Vollhardt was working a training session with Tekoa, who weighed about 3,000 pounds at the time, under the supervision of SeaWorld senior trainer Steve Aibel. Vollhardt, who had transferred to Orca Ocean from the Loro Parque dolphinarium, was having trouble practicing a foot push, a behavior in which the killer whale presses its rostrum against the trainer's foot and propels the trainer across the pool, either underwater or above the surface. After a few failed attempts, Tekoa grabbed Vollhardt's arm and took her to the bottom of the pool. He then dragged her toward the steel gate between the show pool and the back pools and began banging her against it. The emergency alarm went off and Aibel shouted for the staff to get the net as the orca's had been trained to swim away from the net. This distracted Tekoa for an instant and Aibel managed to pull Claudia out of the water and begin CPR. Even as CPR was being performed Tekoa was still trying to reach her as she lay on the pool deck. Vollhardt was carried into a nearby office, where her wetsuit, covered in bite marks and blood, was cut away, and then rushed by ambulance to the intensive-care unit of the hospital in La Laguna. She eventually recovered, from a punctured lung and a forearm fractured in three places and lacerations.

Waterworks were stopped for 6 months and no one was allowed into the water with Tekoa again.

Despite this after her recovery she continued to work at Orca Ocean.

Claudia Vollhardt at Orca Ocean.

Skyla also started to act out her frustrations on the trainers. In the spring of 2009, during a public show, 5-year-old female Skyla started pushing her trainer around the pool and up against the pool wall. Shortly thereafter, special protocols (limits on water work and a mandate that only senior trainers work with her) that had been standard practice for Tekoa after the incident in 2007 were enacted for Skyla as well.

Now only Kohana and Keto could be used for waterworks.

In 2009, with Christmas approaching, Martínez was selected to perform in the holiday show, alongside SeaWorld San Diego's Brian Rokeach. On the fatal day, December 24, Martínez and Rokeach, along with five other Orca Ocean trainers, ran through a morning practice session with Keto, who worked alone in the show pool while the other three killer whales were secured in the two back pools.

It was known that Keto preferred to know what was going on with the other whales rather than perform alone, in Martinez's diary it quoted an incident in the September when Keto was again working alone and after a perimeter ride, was seen vocalizing and circling the pool at high speed once the trainer had got off.

During that fatal day, Rokeach was working from the stage of the showpool and Martinez entered the water. Keto started off well, but then Martínez tried a behavior called a stand-on spy hop, in which he stood on Keto's rostrum as Keto drove his body vertically up and out of the water. Keto was leaning slightly as he rose from the surface, and Martínez fell off. Because the stunt had not been executed cleanly, Keto was not bridged (rewarded).

A short time later, Martínez initiated another spy hop. Again, Keto came up twisting, and this time Martínez responded with an LRS. To help get Keto back on track, he was called to a shallow ledge across the pool from the main stage, and when he obeyed another trainer rewarded him with two handfuls of fish. Keto, according to the report, seemed calm. Martínez then told Rokeach and the others that he was going to ride Keto down into the pool and up onto the stage, a sequence called a haul-down into stage haul-out.

On the way down Keto went too deep, and as he approached the bottom of the 12-meter pool Martínez abandoned the haul-out and asked Keto to follow his hand with his rostrum. Together they drifted up to the surface, and again Martínez responded to Keto's failure with an LRS. (When they don't perform correctly, the trainer reacts with a three-second neutral response and withholds the reward. This is known as a least-reinforcing scenario, or LRS.)

This time, though, Keto responded oddly. According to the incident report, "Keto surfaced with Alexis and seemed calm, but appeared to position himself between Alexis and the stage. Alexis waited for calm from Keto and requested a stage call via underwater tone." Keto responded and swam over to Rokeach, who was standing on the stage. But Rokeach observed that Keto appeared "not committed to remaining under control" and a little "big-eyed." Instead of walking back to get a fish bucket, Rokeach asked another trainer to bring it to him. Like Martínez, Rokeach gave Keto a hand target to focus him, one of the simplest and first behaviors most marine-park killer whales learn. When Rokeach felt Keto was under better control, he asked Martínez, who had been waiting patiently near the center of the pool, to swim slowly toward the slide-over (a ramp connecting the show pool to the back pools) at the edge of the main stage so he could get out of the water. Notably, the incident report makes no mention of Rokeach feeding Keto any fish.

As Martínez started to paddle gently through the water, the report indicates, Keto took note and started to lean in his direction. Sensing he was about to lose control, Rokeach gave Keto another hand target. This time Keto ignored it. He went after Martínez, driving him to the bottom of the pool with his nose. (In his testimony to Canary Islands' investigators, Orca Ocean assistant supervisor Rafael Sanchez said, "The animal in question moved towards him and hit him and violently played with his body.")

Rokeach and the other trainers did what they could, but a powerful 6,600-pound killer whale is the master of his domain. Rokeach slapped the water and banged the bucket on the stage, both signals for Keto to return. He slapped the water again, and this time Keto responded, leaving Martínez at the bottom of the pool-Martínez had been under an estimated 30 seconds by then-and surfacing without him. Rokeach sounded the emergency alarm. Keto took a quick breath, returned to Martínez, and then came back to the surface carrying Martínez' limp body across his rostrum. Rokeach called for the team to get a net in the water while others raced to corral the other three killer whales into one of the back pools. It took almost two minutes to get Keto out of the show pool and secure the gate between the pools (Keto slowed the process by about a minute by interfering with the gate as trainers tried to close it).

By this point, Martínez-apart from the brief moment Keto brought him to the surface-had been on the bottom of the pool for almost 3 minutes. Rokeach and another trainer dove in and resurfaced with Martínez, who was unconscious and had blood coming from his nose and mouth. A distraught Rokeach immediately initiated CPR. A defibrillator was brought out, and Loro Parque called for an ambulance. But Martínez was never revived.

Loro Parque issued a statement saying Martínez's death was an "unfortunate accident" and that he had likely died due to asphyxiation resulting from compression of his chest. "After completing the [exercise]," the statement said, "Alexis was knocked by the orca in an unexpected reaction of the animal," adding that "the study of the facts shows that the animal's behavior did not correspond to the way in which these marine mammals attack their prey in the wild, but was rather a shifting of position."

But as with Dawn Brancheau, the autopsy report for Martínez showed a different scenario.

According to the analysis, the immediate cause of death was a "pulmonary edema", while the fundamental cause of death was "mechanical asphyxiation due to compression and crushing of the thoracic abdomen with injuries to the vital organs".

The examination not only reveals multiple fractures – "the entire anterior rib cage," sternum, ribs – and injuries – "bruised lungs with rips in the pleura", "liver with a wide tear" - but also the bite marks of the animal: "The rounded marks of the external exam are compatible with the teeth marks of an orca. The morphology may be partially reduced due to the wetsuit worn by personnel during the work day",cautions the report.

On December 26, two days after the incident, the zoo distributed a written statement in which they invoked the"preliminary data", and stated that the body "did not present signs of violence, nor hitting or biting, being the lack of oxygen which appears to be the cause of death, ruling out an attack."

Three days later Loro Parque released another statement which then speaks of the injuries and the violence of the event,explains that "at the conclusion of the exercise, Alexis was pushed violently by the orca due to an unexpected reaction from the animal." In addition, it also states that the trainer of marine mammals "suffered injuries due to compression of the thoracic area, and thus lack of oxygen is the most probable cause of death."In this same report, Loro Parque states that "in reviewing the details it shows that the behavior of the animal did not correspond with how these marine mammals attack their prey in the wild, but rather with how they displace."

Contradicting this, the report of the ambulance personnel of the Servicio de Urgencias Canario which transported Alexis to the hospital – part of which was included in the forensic medical report – describes a "man of 29 years old, who is in cardio respiratory arrest after suffering an attack from an orca." Later in the report they surmise that the zoo trainer "suffered injuries from one of the orcas that affected the vital organs, grave injuries that resulted in death."

In other words, Keto slammed so hard into Alix Martinez he caved in his chest.

The trainers were kept out of the water for a day as they were in the Seaworld parks, then everything resumed as normal, well as normal as possible saying that now three out of the four orcas at Loro Parque are banned from waterworks with trainers.

SeaWorld, to date, has never made a public statement regarding the death of Alexis Martinez, even though SeaWorld still owns the whale that killed him.

The pool still was dysfunctional as seems to be the planning. On October 12th 2010 a very young 8 year old Kohana gave birth to Keto's calf Adan. As you can see from the video clip she didn't rush over to help him take his first breath, and she wanted nothing to do with him from the moment he came out.

SeaWorld also never made a public statement when Kohana gave birth to her first-born at Loro Parque. SeaWorld is known to release publicly the births of their new-born orcas in the U.S. parks where their orcas reside.

On November 29, 2011 a young "rescued" orca arrived at Loro Parque, Morgan. Morgan's arrival at the park further upset the balance in the tank and she is mercilessly bullied. Her tank mate Tekoa is recorded as being the most bitten orca in captivity today and Morgan is not far behind him.

Her brief story is in the video below,

Rake marks on Morgan.

Morgan being rammed by Kohana and Skyla.

In the meantime despite her previous rejection of Adan, Kohana became pregnant again and she gave birth to a daughter on August 3, 2012. As you can see from the video below, once again Kohana being only 10 years old, showed no interest in the thing that had caused her so much pain and the baby swam off on her own, to be taken to the medical pool to be hand raised.

Sadly on June 16, 2013 Vicky died. Her cause of death was intestinal complication.

Once again SeaWorld made no announcement of the birth or death of this baby.

Morgan's supporters are currently fighting to get Morgan out of there as she should have been released, at the time of her transfer no one was aware of why she went to Loro Parque until earlier this year when she was listed on SeaWorld's inventory of orcas.

There are lots of questions raised about these orcas that SeaWorld need to answer.

1. What reason do you have for Keto doing what he did? Your experienced trainer was there, he wasn't affected by any other park as you say is the case with Tilikum, and he has always been your orca, born into your tanks. What would turn him into a killer much the same as Tilikum?

2. Why did you not react to Keto killing his trainer, if you had Tilikum would not have been able to kill Dawn?

3. In the USA it is illegal to house incompatible orca's together, as these are your orca why do you allow them to still live together like this when you know the damage they are doing to each other? They should still be covered under US law.

4. Why did you send four orcas on a breeding loan, knowing the only things they could breed with is each other? Why would you deliberately create inbred calves?

5. Why would you breed Kohana so young? You cannot say Loro Parque acted under their own volition as we know they don't; your trainers are there, your vets are there and you can supervise from the webcams. Why would you do that knowing she has no mother to help or learn from?

6. Where are these orcas' mothers and where were they when they went to Loro Parque?

7. What do you intend to do with the state of Tekoa, who respected whale experts say is the most bitten and raked orca in captivity?

8. When you though Ike was being mishandled at Marineland you fought to get him back. Why have you not done the same with these orcas?

9. Does Morgan belong to you? You said absolutely nothing about her being part of your collection, yet list her on your financial files as part of your collection. Loro Parque think she belongs to Holland. Are you lying to them or are you lying to the financial institutions?

10. Why are you leaving Morgan with Keto, is it an attempt to get her pregnant too? If so do you not think that is out of order seeing as a court decision is still in the balance?

Is keeping the focus of the SeaWorld fans on Blackfish a deliberate move by SeaWorld's PR team in an attempt to stop them from looking into incidents like this? I personally think it is.