After a Whale Trainer Is Injured, Man Who Videotaped It Stands by Marineland

A trainer at the park was injured during a whale show this week, prompting another backlash against the park from animal activists.
A trainer sustained injuries this week at Marineland while in the tank with two beluga whales. (Photo: Tyson Paul/Getty Images)
Aug 10, 2013· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

Last month TakePart reported on a Tampa father, Carlo De Leonibus, who brought his family to SeaWorld Orlando, only to witness and videotape a juvenile pilot whale stuck in the concrete slideout, struggling to free itself.

The video went global, and overnight De Leonibus became an anti-captivity activist. His young daughter Cat no longer wants to be a dolphin trainer at SeaWorld—she now wants to be a marine biologist.

And just yesterday, TakePart reported on another young father, this time from Ontario, Canada, named Tom Blake, who brought his own family, including two children ages two and five, to see the shows at Marineland, near Niagara Falls.

During a segment in which two trainers performed in the water with two belugas—the beguiling white whales known for their docility—the young female trainer was injured and hauled up on the slideout area by her colleague, writhing in pain.

It would appear that the whale may have bitten down on her knee, though Marineland has not responded to requests for more information.

Blake videotaped the incident and posted it on YouTube. On Friday evening, he posted another video, showing the paramedic arriving to assist the trainer.

He also replied by phone to an email sent by TakePart.

Blake took exception to TakePart’s headline suggesting the incident was an “attack,” or even an act of aggression. And unlike De Leonibus and his family, who turned against captivity and SeaWorld, Blake firmly remains a loyal fan of Marineland and the performances it puts on with animals and trainers in the water together.

“It was not a vicious attack,” says Blake, who describes himself as “an average Canadian from the subdivision,” about 45 minutes east of Toronto. His family has season tickets to Marineland. “To use the word ‘attack’ is very judgmental. The connotations do not match what we experienced. We didn’t get that, we didn’t see a danger.”

Blake says he was videotaping the show “for fun” when his wife drew his attention to something going on in the water. Seconds later, the female trainer was pulled from the water.

“She was not happy. She was distraught and crying in pain,” he recalls. “Once the paramedic arrived, it was apparent she couldn’t be pulled up. She could not walk.”

In the videos, the show continues even as the medic tends to the wounded trainer on the slideout. Eventually, the performance was halted, about 10 minutes before normal, Blake says. “The Marineland people were pretty good. They came over to tend to and comfort their colleague.” The woman was reportedly taken to a local hospital.

Meanwhile, Blake’s YouTube video received many negative comments from anti-captivity viewers, who chastised him for taking his family to Marineland in the first place. The same thing happened to De Leonibus in Florida, even though his experience turned him squarely against the industry.

Blake, a solid supporter of Marineland, did not want to be bombarded with criticism for posting the video. As he wrote on the YouTube page:

Apparently this video has been picked up by a blog, resulting in many commentors of an activist nature. The majority of commentors apparently feel that I need to be on their side with respect to animal rights. I posted this video because it was interesting, and maybe because it might be of use for the injured employee. Spare me your judgement regarding animal and mammal rights. If you feel that Marineland has broken laws, please contact the authorities. If you feel that the laws are not restrictive enough, please contact the authorities. Don`t lobby me, because this is your cause, not mine. To that end, I have disabled commenting.

“Zoos have been around a long time,” he explains. “Zoos have a place, as long as everything is done correctly. I’m on board [with Marineland]. It’s a zoo.”

The “average Canadian” does, however, acknowledge that life in captivity for whales and dolphins “is very different from them existing in circumstances in the wild. But I don’t know if it’s a big issue. Perhaps my viewpoint could be changed with published research.”

Maybe he should pick up a copy Death at SeaWorld. There are dozens of peer-reviewed studies, with endnote references, discussed throughout the narrative. Taken together, they paint a grim picture of captive cetacean ill-health, emotional and physical stress, and aggressive acts against each other and their human caretakers.