What would you like to ask the SeaWorld trainers? About their jobs, the animals, the audience, their background, etc.?
Submit your questions by responding to the thread, and I'll pick the best ones to ask when I go down there this week.
Knowing what you do about the animals, including what you may only suspect or speculate on, how do you feel about presenting them in shows that few seem to believe have any educational value?
Along those lines: How well (or poorly, as the case may be) do Sea World's current shows and presentation format fit with your personal beliefs about the animals?
How would you do it differently, if you were in charge?
I would be most interested to hear a straight answer to those. As far as I'm concerned, the person who responds can remain anonymous if they wish.
How would a young person interested in working for SeaWorld as a trainer get started?
Do the whales ever fight? And is there a hierarchy like a pack of wolves?
Since Sea World has moved to make animal shows more entertaining and seemingly less educational, how do you feel about your role as "entertainer" in front of guests and "trainer" behind the scenes?
My daughter age 12 is curious how she could become a trainer some day. What type of education, interests or personality does one have to have and how long does a career at Sea World last? What's the pay like? Are there age restrictions or physical fitness tests or special swimming abilities needed?
@Brian: Yes, they do pee (and crap) in the pool. However, as you might guess, the water is constantly recirculated, filtered, and treated with various antibacterial chemicals. Heck, the quality's probably better than a public swimming pool.
Do they fight? Of course, though not particularly often or hard. There are "spats" that break out in any social animal group. And yes, there is a definite social hierarchy and "pecking order." You were spot on in using a wolf pack as a comparison. Orcas practice cooperative hunting, as well as trading off care of the young ones, just as a wolf pack will.
@Karin: Yes, there have been several incidents over the last 15 or so years that have resulted in trainer injury (and even a few fatalities). You need look no further than one of TPI's own accident reports to find evidence of such.
There are also outside articles, such as these.
Self-protection? Honestly, any time you enter the water with animals like that, you are entirely at their mercy.
This is particularly true with a park chain such as Sea World, where there is considerable turnover among the training staff. I have to wonder if any one trainer is ever given the time or encouragement to really get to 'know' the animals on a level any deeper than a simple me-trainer-you-whale type of relationship.
With that said, wearing a wetsuit provides some degree of protection against abrasion and impact, and I have seen some trainers carry an emergency air bottle and regulator, as in a 'mini-SCUBA' gig.
This works better than you might think, because I can tell you from personal experience that it is entirely possible to breath from such a rig even if you're not wearing a face mask. It feels weird, but you can do it! I had to, as part of my own SCUBA training.
@Anthony: Moorpark College, in southern California, has an Exotic Animal Training and Management (EATM) program that is applicable to most of the animal field, including marine mammals. As far as I know, they are the only college in California, if not the country, to offer such. Further info can be found at this link.
It has been my experience that a trainer's educational background will vary widely. Some have graduate degrees in Zoology or the biological sciences, while others never got any further than a few years of college. And (again) all degrees in between. Generally, the ones I've spoken with focus on behavioral psych, basic zoology, etc.
Oh, and being a good swimmer is a must. SCUBA certification is ideal. ;-)
@Bonnie: I admire your daughter's desire to enter the field. It's a tough one to get into, and I would say that she'd probably have better luck getting into it by starting with a smaller independent zoo or oceanarium instead of Sea World. This will give her a chance to gain experience without the pressure of a huge corporation in the background, and it will also (I think) give her a much better chance to learn about ALL the possible duties a trainer might be expected to cover.
Happy travels. Robert, enjoy your trip.
I hope I'm not too late with the question...