What would you like to ask a SeaWorld trainer?

Sea World San Diego: Here's your chance to do that. I'm collecting the best questions from Theme Park Insider readers to ask when I interview SeaWorld trainers this week.

From Robert Niles
Posted August 2, 2008 at 7:05 PM
I'm heading down to San Diego this week to do a feature on SeaWorld, and thought I'd kick this out to TPI readers before I go:

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.


From Bruce Lane
Posted August 3, 2008 at 1:15 AM
OK... Here's three.

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.


From Brian Emery
Posted August 3, 2008 at 9:06 AM
Do they (the whales) pee in that water they splash on the audience?
Hahahahahaha – it’s from a movie….

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?

From Russell Meyer
Posted August 3, 2008 at 9:09 AM
I have just one...

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?

From hannah caller
Posted August 3, 2008 at 9:22 AM
how about..................As a Seaworld employee how do you feel about the takeover of AB by InBev are you worried about the future and the welfare of the animals you care for??

From Karin S
Posted August 3, 2008 at 11:41 AM
Though the whales, dolphins, etc are trained, they're still wild. Has there ever been a situation where the animal became aggressive and how do the trainers protect themselves?

From Anthony Murphy
Posted August 3, 2008 at 1:03 PM
I would probably ask what kind of educational background trainers tend to have (like where they go to college, etc)

From Jeff M
Posted August 3, 2008 at 5:15 PM
First and foremost question I have is which trainers you tend to question? There are senior trainers, scrubs, etc...... If you'd like to get my personal questions, then I'd like to know who you intend to speak with! I'd love to get your more informative details towards your visit so I can present my questions accordingly! There are hierarchy within, and if you have better contacts than I, I'd love to know so you may be availble to present a different, informative take on things!

Please inform....


From Bonnie Winberg
Posted August 3, 2008 at 7:27 PM
Similar to another couple questions:

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?

From Bonnie Winberg
Posted August 3, 2008 at 7:29 PM
What is your job like when you are not performing for the crowd? AKA: What do you do on the job? Paperwork? Research? Other animal care?

From Bruce Lane
Posted August 3, 2008 at 10:12 PM
I may not work for Sea World (honestly, I wouldn't ever want to), but I think I can offer answers to some of these.

@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.

From LJ Warner
Posted August 4, 2008 at 5:31 PM
There are so many complicated "stunts" done in any Sea World show that moving from the simple "target" training/postive re-enforcement seems to be a very large task such as how to get to the point of the animal using its flukes and flippers in unusal ways (waving, splashing, etc.) or performing those spectacular leaps and flips that the Orcas and Dolphins do. I understand the use of target and clicker training with horses, but I can turn the horse's head in the direction I want to teach them to follow a target. What do you do with animal in an environment that is alien to us to train them in the more advanced manuvers?

From Mark Walker
Posted August 8, 2008 at 9:49 AM
Does Shamu like Rock 'N Roll? (No! It's a serious question! It's regarding the Shamu Rocks show at Sea World Orlando)

I hope I'm not too late with the question...

From Robert Niles
Posted August 8, 2008 at 2:07 PM
I've written the piece and am editing it now; look for it later today.

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