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SeaWorld trainer responds to PETA commentary

Killer whales are thriving at SeaWorld

Jorge Villa caring for a ill sea lion pup that he rescued earlier this year from a local beach.

Jorge Villa caring for a ill sea lion pup that he rescued earlier this year from a local beach.

I read with dismay the Sept. 3 guest commentary (San Diego LGBT Weekly issue 181) by PETA’s Gray Caskey urging the LGBT community to unite against SeaWorld.  I am a proud member of San Diego’s LGBT community, and I completely disagree with the distorted portrait Ms. Caskey painted of our park.  There is no organization that is more dedicated to the physical, social and mental health and well-being of animals, including killer whales, than SeaWorld.  I’ve had the honor of spending the last 20 years of my life at SeaWorld caring for some of the most incredible animals in the world. I know firsthand SeaWorld’s commitment to animals, because I live this truth every day.

My parents couldn’t afford to take my family to the Pacific Northwest to observe killer whales in the Puget Sound.  Instead, it was my elementary school teacher who held my hand while I encountered my first marine mammals.  It was an educational field trip to SeaWorld where I met Shamu, dolphins and other animals at the park.  That experience, even at a very young age, changed my life forever.  I knew that when I grew up I wanted to work with these amazing animals.  It took years of hard work and determination to earn a degree in psychology, gain animal care experience and learn how to swim.  One of the happiest days of my life was when earned a position within the zoological department at SeaWorld and ever since I have been committed to giving these animals the best care possible and sharing them with millions of visitors every year from all over the world.

I don’t make these comments casually.  During my two decades at SeaWorld, I’ve not only devoted my life to killer whales, dolphins, pilot whales and sea lions, but, as part of our Rescue Team, I’ve come to the aid of hundreds of ill and injured marine mammals stranded on the beaches of San Diego County.  Rescuing an animal that is near death, giving it a second chance at life, and returning it to the ocean is something I cherish.  I don’t do this because of a pay check. I, like my fellow trainers, do this because we love these animals.  Regardless if it’s day or night, weekends or holidays, I am there for our animals. The relationship and bond I have with them is very special and something I wish everyone could experience. When I have a chance to talk with our guests after a show, especially young kids, and I can connect them to our animals, I know I’m making a difference in their lives and helping them gain a better understanding of and respect for all animals.

As part of our ongoing commitment to the health and welfare of our animals, we will be spending $100 million to expand our killer whale habitat.  This will be the fourth expansion of their habitat here at the park.  We are also contributing $10 million to killer whale research.

I was offended by Ms. Caskey trying to draw a connection between the LGBT community’s struggle for equality and how we care for our animals. Such a comparison is beyond obtuse.  And her condemnation of Nicole Murray Ramirez, a San Diego icon, was equally insulting.  I want to thank Nicole for supporting SeaWorld and speaking the truth about all the great work we do as the real advocates for animals.

After 20 years at SeaWorld, I am as passionate about animals as I was when I was a little kid. The trainers I work with at the park not only share my passion, they have become my life-long friends.  Together, we spend most of our waking lives with our animals and we know that they are healthy and thriving.

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Posted by on Oct 4, 2015. Filed under Commentary, Entertainment News, Online Only, Section 4A, Top Highlights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

49 Comments for “SeaWorld trainer responds to PETA commentary”

  1. Margaret Williamson

    I agree with the SeaWorld trainer’s comments. Gray Caskey butters her bread with money from Peta. For her to commend SeaWorld and the care of their animals would probably get her fired.

    I went to SeaWorld a few weeks ago and spent a full day there, walking the park and watching the shows and visiting the animals. I’ve been around animals all my life and I have enough sense to know if an animal is exhibiting any signs of mistreatment and/or abuse and such was not the case with the orcas, dolphins and seals. They seemed happy, healthy and vibrant and were quite bonded to their handlers. I applaud SeaWorld for wanting to increase the size of their pools and hope they do. Every little kid should experience the wonder that is SeaWorld!

    • Margaret, are you a marine animal expert? Are you a veterinarian? I suggest you read some non-fiction about the obvious mental and physical abuse the marine animals held captive in SeaWorld experience. It’s real. http://timesofsandiego.com/opinion/2015/10/02/a-peta-veterinarian-describes-her-visit-to-seaworld/

      • I disagree with you completely. Are you an animal expert? Have you even been to SeaWorld? Or are you just parrotting what you read?

      • How about you? Are you a marine mammal expert? 😉

        FYI…you shared an “opinion” article…lol

      • KimMarie, are you a marine mammal expert? Are you a veterinarian? The animal’s brains are stimulated in the same ways they are used in the wild, minus the stressors of searching tirelessly for food that is disappearing or swimming through oil spills and fields of garbage and radioactivity. Their lives are enriched in ways you may not understand.
        SeaWorld isn’t held together by a bunch of money grubbers looking to make animals dance at their expense. It is actually made up of marine mammal experts and veterinarians.
        Interesting that their opinions don’t matter to you.

      • Funny that you would share an opinion piece from PETA, a group that spouts more fiction than any other group I’ve ever heard of. Take a look at how well they care for the animals in their “shelters”, and then ask yourself if you really want those people caring for the whales they want removed from SeaWorld and put into their care…

      • No but the trainer is unlike Gray Caskey and her PETA lies. PETA and Blackfish have been proven to be false stories so why does the LGBT Weekly even give this consideration of being published? The Blackfish documentary has been filled with so many lies proven Why do people believe it? And tell me How does any PETA Member know the animals are under mental abuse Did you talk to them? NO Just some highly paid quacks making up BS. Have we forgotten the Cows are happier in California attacks? Yes that was total BS as well PETA being worthless If Gray really wants to make a name the how about doing a Documentary if how many animals PETA kills a year in captivity and be truthful? Bet It will not happen but others have done it

  2. Else Jean Jensen

    1. I would like a list of rehab’ed and/or recued animals?
    2. I would like a status over how much SeaWorld pays towards conservation, rehabilitation etc. List must divide into a. amount collected from visitors b- goverment/state founds and c. money SeaWorld themself pay out of revenue.
    3. Documentation that orcas thrive in pee, poo and chemicals in small cramped barren tanks. And btw how do you define ‘thrive’ and animal wellfare?
    4. A plan for how to finance BWP? (Only a dream, SeaWorld can’t finance, or a nightmare depending on the eyes)
    I bet I’ll come up empty handed.

    • bet you will be broke they have published these results hundreds of times and had the News Networks of San Diego on hand filming they rescues, the care given

    • Your not asking questions, you’re making allegations with inferences to finding guilt, to wit, why should anyone give you anything when your opinions, no matter how slanted and incorrect, are already established.

      • ALSO. when they are done with the water from the pools. The water gets refiltered and pumped back into the ocean with the correct salinization and ph levels, making the water cleaner and healthier than at the point it was actually taken out of the ocean.

    • Just so you know, no chemicals get used in the water at seaworld san diego. They are directly connected to the harbor where the water gets filtered directly from the ocean and then pumped into the pools. The filtration system is solar powered and completely green and the filtration process happens through a series of turbines that get filtered with rocks that get finer and finer and is designed to purify the water without the use of chemicals or any hazardous foreign materials at all. I have seen the filtration system first hand. They even make sure that the pumps are located in place that is separated from sealife so no sea creatures are accidentally harmed in the filtration systems.

  3. Jennofur OConnor

    Thirty-six orcas have died in the parks’ tanks—not including stillbirths and none of old age. Sixty-two bottlenose dolphins have died at SeaWorld tanks since 2004, including 16 stillborn babies.

    According to a longtime former SeaWorld orca trainer, at least 19 orca mothers and their calves have been traumatically separated. Mothers have been bred with their own sons. Five orcas at SeaWorld were forcibly removed from their ocean home. Multiple former employees report orcas so stressed that they destroy their teeth gnawing on anything they can and how orcas are regularly given antacids, antibiotics, antipsychotics and other drugs just to survive in their tiny concrete tanks.

    Enough! Empty the tanks and transition the orcas to protected coastal sea sanctuaries

  4. Jorge Villa doesn’t mention the human and animal deaths that could have been prevented at SeaWorld, but that occurred because trainers were forced into dangerous situations, or that orcas were held together in small pools. He also doesn’t mention that these animals are bred for money or are fed Valium to keep them calm. He doesn’t mention that calves are torn from their mothers among many other awful things that happen at SeaWorld. Our society has grown beyond SeaWorld–we now know that keep animals captive for our own gain is morally wrong. SeaWorld is not a non-profit–making money is first-and-foremost, and this blog is one more PR stunt.

  5. Notice how this piece is all about how the trainer feels about SeaWorld. If one of the orcas who has been held captive there could be interviewed for his or her opinion, I’m sure it would be a much different story. No one wants to spend their life locked in a concrete prison. The orcas at SeaWorld are so frustrated and deprived that they break their teeth off gnawing on the pool edges and gates. This is no life for any animal.

  6. I feel bad for these trainers who love animals, but don’t realize that they are working for a business whose sole goal is to make money off of the imprisonment of marine animals. Instead of spending all of that money on tank expansion, they should be using that money to build sea pens, so that the marine animals can swim freely in the ocean – not chemical-based concrete tanks.

    • You do realize that sea pens is still captivity, don’t you? No apparently not. A sea pen will have walls. Walls made of some sort of metal mesh, but still walls. They will most certainly not be swimming freely in the ocean as PETA and Blackfish would like you to believe. Rather than believe the propaganda they’re feeding you, do your own research. Sea World provides well for the animals in their care. They rescue, rehab and release dozens of animals each year. Recently when there was a bunch of sea lions that got caught up in the Santa Barbara oil spill, Sea World halted the Sea Lion show so the trainers could help care for them. All of those sea lions have, or will be returned to the wild. In Orlando, Sea World Rescue help stranded dolphins and manatees all the time and those animals are released back into the wild. Mother and son orca are not purposely bred to each other, that’s just ridiculous.

      Just remember…it is illegal in the United States to remove marine mammals from the wild and put in a marine park and has been since the 1970s. Blackfish wants you to believe they still do that.

      The animals who perform in shows are fed REGARDLESS if they perform or not. You can NOT force an 8,000 pound animal to do anything it does not want to do. The animals are not abused in any way to force them to perform. Again, you can’t force something that size to do something it does not want to do. There have been times San Diego could only use one or two whales in a show because the others refused to do anything. PETA claims they are both starved and abused to force them to perform.

      PETA would rather these animals, many of which were born in captivity, be dead than at Sea World.

  7. You know what offends me? SeaWorld’s p.r. flacks thinking people are dumb enough to believe that cooping up highly intelligent marine mammals in bathtubs is some sort of noble enterprise. SeaWorld is an amusement park, nothing more, nothing less.

  8. Surely, the trainer must be referring to a fantasy SeaWorld, not the one where orcas bear the physical and emotional scars of their captivity: broken teeth, collapsed dorsal fins and wounds from trying to escape their tanks; the stress and anxiety from circling those tanks endlessly because they cannot roam as they would in the wild.

  9. I’m disappointed that your publication keeps printing puff pieces about SeaWorld. All forms of mindless prejudice and exploitation are wrong–including exploitation of other animals. Marine mammals should not be confined to tiny tanks for our “entertainment.”

  10. You are all full of B.S. you don’t work for the park, you never worked with marine mammals or animal rescue, nor have you any experience. You only believe what the Internet tells you. Documentaries ( and I use that term loosely) blackfish was a one sided piece of crap. It didint give both sides of the view and let the viewer choose. It used manipulation in order to get their message across. Yet their money went to the pockets of the director and their actors. Not animal care or research. Seaworld has done a world of good.
    Anthropomorphizing an animal that you know little about, is wrong to do. You believe they are suffering, you believe they are hurt. But YOU don’t know. You THINK you do. Unlike you I will do my research freely and go to the park happily. These animals aren’t forced to perform. You all bitch about them being bored or being forced to do shows, well which one is It? Stop assuming. Freeing animals won’t do nothing good at all. They won’t swim of happily as you think. You want your free willy ending, well sorry this is reality. Wakeup

  11. The animal rights extremists sit back, criticize and raise a lot of money while SeaWorld is out there everyday rescuing and rehabilitating animals. While SeaWorld is connecting kids who were just like me to animals and inspiring the next generation of conservationists. The activists want you to Believe that SeaWorld is a terrible place to spread their agenda and this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Do some research, look past the lies of Blackfish and PETA and you will understand. Zealots can’t win this fight because without SeaWorld and without zoos and aquariums we would still live in fear of the animals we have come to love.

  12. As a gay San Diego man, and a former SeaWorld trainer i can say that nothing makes me happier than this article! I grew up as a third generation SeaWorld trainer. I learned that our passion to care for sick animals is what makes us better humans. Since i was a little boy i dreamed of the day i was old enough to make a difference in these animals life and i am proud of my 6 years with various jobs at SeaWorld parks. There is no facility in the world that is more dedicated to providing the best care for these animals and for the rescued animals that stay with them until released.

    The article mentioned above about a veterinarian visiting the park is filled with “facts” that are simply untrue. That vet works with PETA to spread their lies and fill their pockets.

    I hope you all find your own truth on the subject. But for me, i have to look at my own experience working there and my own commitment and dedication to these animals. My family has over 70 years of combined experience working with animals at SeaWorld…. theres simply no better zoological park in the world!

  13. ” I suggest you read some non-fiction”

    And this is followed with a link to a peta article rofl

  14. Until all you anti-caps do the amount of work for animals that Sea World does, you have no room to talk.

  15. “Thirty-six orcas have died in the parks’ tanks”

    How many killer whales have died in the ocean?

    “and none of old age”

    Old age is not a cause of death.

  16. Jeffrey Saunders

    More innocent humans have died this year in America do to nut jobs with guns than all the animals that have died at all SeaWord parks in the past 51 years. It’s time for people to get off the hate SeaWorld bandwagon and do some actually good. Wake up America and et your priorities straight it’s only a matter of time until everyone is personally affected by and idiot with a gun.

  17. Couldn’t agree more with this article. Just because those speaking out against Seaworld have a louder voice doesn’t mean what they’re shouting about is correct.

  18. To the person asking for the list of animals rescued and rehabbed by SeaWorld, just put that same question on the search bar in Google. It’s public record. SeaWorld donates millions a year to conservation, hence the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens CONSERVATION Fund. All of the money comes from their “profits”, they do not accept money from government agencies. All of the money they use to rescue and rehabilitate animals also comes from their profits. I’d like to know how you think organizations pay for these types of things if they don’t make money. Also, the animals do not live in pee, the filtration systems are far more advanced than anything you’ve ever seen and the water is filtered approximately once every three hours (I don’t know exactly, but they have an entire water quality department that does nothing but maintain clean healthy water for the animals). None of this is a secret, you can find any of it online, or walk up to any park and ask and they are more than happy to show you how things work. No one who loves animals is going to subject one to a bad life. SeaWorld is a great place.

  19. Charlene Melcher

    I wonder how many who are criticizing this trainer have actually spent any time with the animals at Sea World? But more importantly how many of you have dogs, cats or birds you keep in captivity? And don’t give me the BS that they are domesticated so it’s different. You cage and hold them in your homes. Why aren’t you protesting Disney or the San Diego Zoo they all have marine animals in captivity. Or better yet are you harassing the Japanese whale hunters that kill the beautiful whales in the Southern Arctic. Sea World does do a lot for these animals I’ve seen it first hand when there is a stranding and they come in and help nurse the sick animal to health again and release it back into the ocean. If anyone should know how these animals are treated it’s someone who has cared for them for over 20 years.

  20. Else Jean – that info is public info. All you have to do is google it and you’ll find it. If you come up empty handed it’s because you didn’t try hard enough.

    KimMarie – that vet observed “from a distance”. What a joke. The fact that she was only a few months into her vet practice doesn’t make her an “expert” regarding captive cetaceans. I would think that people who spend every day with the animals would know them better.

    I’m standing with SeaWorld and the work that they so to educate people on conservation, about their animals, and the animals they rescue and rehab.

  21. i find it interesting (And hilarious) that so many people just jump on board with what they think they know. As a resident in San Diego not only have I been to sea world, but I have several friends who have worked for them and they all say the same thing; that they take better care of the animals then their actual employees. Here are some facts that some people here wanted to know and maybe some people didn’t think about:
    1. Most of fhe orcas currently at the sea world facilities were bred in captivity. So yes they where born in the tanks. Yes they should be bigger and give the animals more room but here’s the kicker for a lot of you; can you guess what happens when you take an animal that has lived it entire life being hand fed out in the wild? Chances are the whale will die, they have instincts I’m sure, but if you tell me that they can just be placed into the ocean and thrive your delusional.
    2. Sea world does contribute to several conservation efforts. I may not know how much they give, I may not know exactly how many animals they help annually, but conservation does happen. Of course they want to make money, what buisness doesn’t? But I remember as a child going to sea world and going next to the tanks meant for the orcas that house a grey whale calf they had rescued, and watched the news as they released him back into the wild. Many of the animals they have were taken in originally this way.

    I’m only putting those two but it’s big enough. You want to go on and praise blackfish for being a complete one sided documentary be my guest, the world needs small minded people who just believe everything they are told when shown pictures of “abused” animals with sad music in the back ground. I was always under the assumption that in order to make a compelling argument you need to analyze all aspects, that means the good as well as the bad. It also help when you have actual scientists and not people claiming to be, who actually are not, making your statements. It also doesn’t help when you start showing pictures and videos of animals and trainers and they aren’t even the animals and trainers you are speaking about. ( several trainers have mentioned this).

    I don’t know, maybe I should just jump on the I hate sea world band wagon because of fictitious statements made by people I don’t know.

  22. These comments are breaking my heart. Thank you, Jorge, for telling your story and for your commitment to Sea World and wildlife.
    Sea World cares so much more than people know. It’s sad to see people so blind to the care and love that Sea World’s efforts provide for our animals around the globe.

  23. Jorge is spot on! PETA are misinformed, knee-jerk, emotionally driven Assh*oles.

  24. I applaud the effort of the trainers, veterinarians (the REAL ones) and all the volunteers that save, work with, release back to the wild AND research how to better care for all sea life. When will the “release them all” idiots realize that some must be kept in captivity. many have only known captivity for most, if not all their lives. regardless of whether they were ‘forcibly removed” from the wild or born in captivity, many can not be released. those of you putting the idea out there that only captive animals have still borns, limp dorsal fins need to research more. there are plenty of pictures that show wild orcas with drooping dorsal fins. If you only take PETA’s word for anything you are more delusional than ever!!!! we NEED places like Sea World, zoos, rehab centers, and breeding facilities for all animals or we WILL lose them!!!!

  25. Wow, a lot of haters on here. I wonder which one of you has actually done anything to help a marine mammal.

    Jorge has apparently dedicated his life to helping them and has earned a bit of respect. I would expect more understanding and less venom from an LGBT group.

  26. How many animals have all of the above people rescued and/or rehabed? How much money have you given to rescue organizations? How many sleepless nights have you spend worrying about a whale, dolphin, sealion or shark? So all you “experts” stop reading books and get out there and live it. Then talk.

  27. All of you. Get a life. There are bigger problems than your own piddling BS opinions about both SW and PETA. Focus your energies elsewhere.

  28. The only right place for animals is wilderness….nothing more to discuss about

    • do you have a dog? a cat? a fish? a hamster? Do you feel like this kind of animal captivity is ok because it’s socially acceptable to do so? People like you are why the terrorists have won.

  29. Ik think Emotion is something that should not Be part of Any discussion. Personally i think both sides have a point. Animals should live free, not in cages but on the other hand, education also comes with a price. We keep forgetting that humans are the cause of this mess. If your facility contributes to knowledge, breeding programs to save species, who are we too judge. Respect to both of you. Greetz From Rotterdam. Antoine

  30. If “thriving” means that their dorsal fins are flipped over, they are cooped in tiny, chlorinated tanks and suffering from both physical and mental problems, forced to do stupid tricks for food, and can never go where they want, with whom they want, then I suppose I would agree. Otherwise, I’d say they are sick and miserable.

  31. It’s amazing there are so many posts here that are just repeating the fictional information they got from Blackfish.

    BTW, how many of you anti-Seaworld nuts have pets you keep in your home, a pen, a fenced area? And before you say that’s not in water, Seaworld’s water is cleaner and much, much more regulated than the ocean. If you’ve kept fish (shame on you!), you know consistency in water conditions = less stress (just try breeding larger fish without consistency in water conditions and a good diet…doesn’t work). And a much more routine feeding schedule, a more consistent diet, plus not having to search for said food means much less stress as well.
    How many of you go to zoos, Disneys Animal Kingdom, aviaries, butterfly houses, etc?
    If you do fit in any of these, you are a hypocrite.

  32. Bravo Jorge Villa! I can’t wait to come see your amazing park this December with my partner and soon to be husband. We support everything you and the park does and we will be happy to bring our children to learn from SeaWorld.

  33. So many misguided people on here who think after watching Blackfish think they are experts. You let a bias propaganda do all the thinking for you. I’ve studied Marine life for most my life when I was a kid til now being in college. If you don’t know the way Blackfish is presented in a way that will brainwash your mind into attacking your emotions. That’s the way they get through to you. The info you take in from propagandas like Blackfish is that is first off outdated. It’s illegal to take Orcas and other Ceatans from the wild for over 35 years. Second those images taken weren’t taken from SeaWorld at all Ive helped out at SeaWorld enough to know if that was one of their whales. And their pools are huge and inspected by NOAA fisheries(which means they are government controlled). The dorsal fin collapse is due to gravity not emotion. There are plenty or orcas in the wild whom have collapsed dorsal fins as well. They swim over 100 miles a day in the wild for food! Why do all that swimming when they are fed restaurant quality fish everyday. You cannot force a 7,000 pound animal to do flips and jumps if they don’t want to, they still get fed wether they don’t want to perform or not. And they do jumps and flips out in the wild just as much as they would at SeaWorld. A big major thing Blackfish never mentioned is that there is more dangers in the ocean than SeaWorld. The dangers include Red tide, oil spills, toxic waste being dumped in the oceans, mal nutrition, and there are poachers killing orcas for their meat. Many things Blackfish has never told you because they amatuers telling you lies. Try going and rescuing animals before spewing out this nonsense.

  34. It is a shame that these in the vegan animal rights social movement have caused the drop the price of stock to half of what it was, to end their business and by telling lies. Now the county states they can not let them breed or breed by AI. Never thought I would see this in a free society. I have yet to see how a county governmet can sanction SeaWorld out of business. Wonder if the people who thought that one up will realize how much it has taken out of the economy in hotels and resturants and other things to do in the area. We try to go every two or three years and my children loved it growing up and was always a family treat to see these animal close up. They must like what they are doing – they are always smiling!

  35. Great article and I appreciate his thoughts on this topic. It’s so sad that the animal rights people find SeaWorld to be a threat when there are thousands of animals suffering in the ocean because of pollution or other environmental concerns. The animals at SeaWorld are well cared for! The water they swim in is cleaner than the water in the ocean. Let’s stop the lies and false statements about SeaWorld and focus on caring for the animals in the ocean.

  36. There are posts on here asking about money spent on research and rehab in a world MILLIONS.

    There were also concerns about the chemicals in the animals water at SeaWorld. Actually the pull their water from the ocean and remove all of the pollutants and “Poo, Pee” out then when they are done with it they filter it again before putting it back into the ocean cleaner then when they removed it.

    As for how awesome everyone thinks peta is here is another arrival for you.


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