There are lots of tricks of the trade that SeaWorld trainers and veterinarians use to ensure the relative health of their animals, from administering regular doses of Valium to teeth cleanings to prevent infection where their teeth have worn away from gnawing on the concrete bars in their tanks.
One of the lesser known of these tricks involves sunscreen -- and not just any sunscreen. Black zinc oxide is applied over the black area of the whales' skin, both to prevent sunburns and to cover up the marks of existing burns. Three former SeaWorld trainers that The Dodo spoke to had personally applied black zinc oxide to the orcas, while another had witnessed it being done. All of them noted that the animal's skin was usually burned or blistering before application.
"Zinc oxide is a way to paint over burns -- like a mechanical coat -- usually on dorsal surface of the animal." said Jeffrey Ventre, a former orca trainer at SeaWorld's Orlando park. "It's also for aesthetic reasons, to hide blistering peeling skin."
Carol Ray, a former trainer who also worked at the Orlando park, said that when she applied the substance to a male orca, burnt layers of his skin would peel off in her hands.
As it turns out, sunburns are a product of captivity for orca whales. Here are four reasons why orcas at SeaWorld require sunblock, unlike their wild counterparts:
1. Their water is crystal clear.