Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, I was a regular season pass holder at the local SeaWorld and I never grew tired of the many summer days I spent learning about the conservation and protection of animals at the park. When I think back to my childhood, I see a 5-year-old girl sitting in the stands of marine amusement shows, dreaming of one day becoming a whale trainer. It was the connection that the incredible whales seemed to share with their trainers that first drew me to the career.
As a young girl, I summoned the courage to go up to one of the trainers at Shamu Stadium and ask how to become a trainer myself. I followed the advice she gave me, and at the age of 22, in the midst of getting my master's degree, I received the phone call to come and interview for an animal trainer position at SeaWorld San Antonio. A month later, I got the job — my childhood dream became a reality.
When I first started working at the park, I was overwhelmed with excitement as senior trainers took me under their wing and taught me the “ways of SeaWorld.” They showed me how to clean everything, how to prepare food, how to care for the animals and build relationships with them. I was encouraged to see that each animal and trainer shared a unique bond, and the relationships portrayed in shows weren't just part of an act.
I quickly learned that much more goes into training these animals than I ever could have imagined. On a busy summer day, the other trainers and I only performed in shows for around two to three hours a day, but we spent another 12 to 16 hours interacting with the animals behind the scenes. We often passed more time with these remarkable animals than with our own families, and we spent countless weekends, nights, and holidays side by side with the dolphins, whales, and sea lions.
When SeaWorld’s first location opened its doors in 1964, the purpose and passion behind the park was to care for animals, aid in conservation, and educate people about a previously unknown world. Over years of long hours, SeaWorld and its staff have learned a great deal about how to care for their animals in the most enriching environment possible.
Today, trainers are able to effectively monitor the animals' health, weigh them, clean teeth, and perform sonograms on females to check on pregnancies, to name just a few things. Trainers are responsible for holding many different types of daily sessions with the whales and dolphins — ones in which they monitor their health, play with them, build relationships, and teach them skills.
A common criticism of SeaWorld is that its trainers “make” the animals perform in shows. But in reality, we didn't make the animals do anything. After all, it would be impossible to make a 9,000-pound creature do something it didn't want to do. Shows are simply another type of interaction between animal and trainer.