Life and Death at SeaWorld

In a recent piece for Outside, Tim Zimmermann spoke at length with three former animal care workers about their experiences at SeaWorld. Animal care workers, who are responsible for the health of mammals at marine parks, are privy to the best and worse that goes on, with unique access and responsibilities. In the excerpt below, Zimmermann quotes from the journal of Krissy Dodge, a former employee at SeaWorld San Antonio, as she recounts the birth of a baby beluga:

Sept 17, 2006. Sunday a week ago I had whale watch from 12am–7:30am. Siku the beluga was due at any moment. An hour into it I thought I saw a small amount of blood. I didn’t see any crunching [flexing by the mother] though, and kept watching. I saw more blood and half of the tail flukes come out. I was so excited I started shaking. I immediately called my supervisor and he arrived in 10 min. After everyone was called I got into my wetsuit in case I was needed to get into the water.

When the calf was half way out, the supervisor told us to surround the pool so if the calf went around, it wouldn’t bump into walls or flop out of the pool. The calf was born and I watched it take its first breath. It seemed to be doing OK. It was very exciting for me. I almost wanted to cry. Of course I didn’t since no one shows any emotion in our dept.

I stayed watching until I was off at 7:30am. The next day I found out that the calf was not nursing and had to be tube fed. He didn’t take it well. To do it, someone had to jump in and catch it, swim it over, then a tube was shoved down its throat. A few times milk and blood was being expelled from the blowhole. It was decided on Friday to make an emergency move of Siku and calf to a back pool. Apparently when they got into the water to move the calf, it died in a trainer’s arms. I found out it died as they were bringing it back to 72 [the necropsy room] on the back of a cart.



I had to help in the necropsy. It was my first one and was indeed traumatic. To be the one to see it being born and also the one to cut it up was really difficult. When it was finished I walked to the zoological building to get a shower. I was still taking it all in and trying not to cry. A coworker was there and asked how it went. I said it was ok, but difficult being my first one. She said, “Oh don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. Soon it won’t even phase you.” To have this job, the only way to do it is to become hard and desensitized to everything. This job is so difficult. Not just physically, but emotionally. It’s made me question who I am and what I believe in. I’m ready to move on. This chapter needs to be closed.

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