By Bridgette Pirtle
Editor’s Note: Since writing this post, Bridgette has given birth to a healthy baby boy. We wish to congratulate her on her healthy child and sharing her story with us here.
When it comes to my former association with Blackfish, the mantra, “Everything happens for a reason,” hasnʼt always assuaged my disappointments of becoming connected to such an immensely misleading exploitation of the lives of killer whales and their trainers at SeaWorld. For the past year, there have been many times that Iʼve struggled with the reality that I lost so much faith in myself, and I allowed this massive shadow of doubt to wash over my own lifeʼs experience caring for the animals at SeaWorld. But, then I am blessed with encounters like Iʼve had the past few days and am reminded that everything truly does have a purpose in our lives. I now have a unique opportunity to contribute to a sort of re-shaping of the publicʼs point of view to better resemble the true reality of killer whales in captivity.
As I quickly approach my due date, my days are filled with new doctors, frequent appointments and a new ability to drive myself to the closest Labor & Delivery room with my eyes closed, all in preparation of the birth of our first child. The past two days have been spent between our new pediatrician and our obstetrician. I anticipated doctorʼs office discussions of planning babyʼs first appointment or whether or not to induce labor.
What I hadnʼt anticipated were two separate occasions that provided me with an opportunity to discuss my past as a killer whale trainer and my more recent experience with one of the most misleading documentaries of our time.
As I waddled back to the examination room behind my pediatric nurse, I braced for the usual shock that comes along with stepping on a scale when 38 weeks pregnant and the usual prodding that accompanies collecting vital signs. But, instead of blood pressure and temperature, my nurse turned to me with a smile and asked, “What can you tell me about being a killer whale trainer at SeaWorld?” Apparently, my medical history of the reason behind my shoulder surgery has also been tagged with an note for all to inquire about my time with marine mammals. As I shared my story of my ten years swimming with and caring for some of the most amazing animals on the planet, she also shared with me that her oldest daughter had shared the same dream I had the privilege to live for ten years. That is, a dream her daughter shared until she watched a recent movie streaming on Netflix.
What followed was thirty minutes of one of the most heartfelt conversations Iʼve had to date regarding the topic of Blackfish.
Saddened by the idea that her daughterʼs dreams of becoming an animal trainer were crushed by a movie, I shared my insight, thoughts and personal experiences from the past two years. Aside from misguided protests and poorly planned political attacks, this has been one of the more upsetting aspects of the self-proclaimed “effect.” Discouraging so many caring, compassionate people away from dedicating their careers to the care of animals is not what I would deem a desirable outcome. It is not contributing to the best interest of the animals. It is not animal welfare, but rather warfare.
It is heartbreaking.
As I continued to recount all the instances of misrepresentation, fabrications, and manipulation, the look that came across her face was not one of shock, or even disapproval. It was even more encouraging than anything I have typically encountered when discussing this chapter of my lifeʼs experience.
She had a look of pure relief.
The reality of the impact of this piece of cinematic propaganda is that the extent of frivolous accusations and fabricated stories craftily edited together are so extraordinary that they lend themselves to leave many in the audience with more of a sense of doubt and uncertainty than one of accurate understanding and insight. Blackfish is the perfect example of how seeing is not necessarily always a direct correlation to believing. Especially when the storytellers are more exploitive than explanatory.
Fortunately, the fear-motivating tactics taken for granted and woven within the span of ninety minutes are not necessarily holding the long-term effects desired by the radical activists rallying behind its misguided message. The feeling of navigating oneʼs self through the smoke and mirrors of an opinion that more often than not wants to simply point out the problems without offering up any thoughtful solutions, leaves little to be desired.
People are beginning to ask the same questions I began to have the courage to ask, seeking to take responsibility for the knowledge they choose to acquire rather than take information blindly. It has been one of the most promising developments of recent. No single person should be willing to sit by passively and accept the contents of one source as their absolute truth, especially when that “truth” has been twisted and coerced to perpetuate a radical message. Just as Iʼve learned to be more aggressive in establishing what is real and what is anotherʼs exaggerated figment of their imagination, others are also discovering this necessity for themselves. While the truth is rapidly being uncovered by an audience taking ownership over what is relevant, what is fact and what is fiction, the actions of SeaWorld are speaking volumes louder than the fabricated stories of these former few trainers. In the end, while they sit and persiferate on irrelevant accusations from decades past, SeaWorld is offering up solutions in the form of involvement, truth and change.
In addition to fifty years of being a worldwide leader in rescue and conservation efforts, SeaWorld is continuing to set the standards in killer whale training and care. The recent announcement of their Blue World Projectʼs plan (ranging into the $100’s of millions of dollars) to expand upon Shamu Stadium was quickly followed up by a commitment to also donate an additional $10 million towards the research of the endangered pods of Southern Resident killer whales. Two recent, pivotal actions proving the parkʼs dedication to the welfare of the animals in their care and around the world.
Rumor has it, this is just the beginning of even more amazing things to come.
Driving home from my appointment, I teared up reminiscing about all the amazing memories I had while working at the San Antonio park and how my time there was able to restore a childhood dream and a motherʼs hope. Seven years ago, her familyʼs dream vacation brought them to my old park in Texas. Seven years ago, they watched my relationships as I interacted with the whales.
Although their trip was unexpectedly cut short after an untimely case of appendicitis, that one day they spent at SeaWorld left an impression that resonates to this day. Now, after having the chance to speak honestly about the truth behind the misleading stories of Blackfish, a family will once again plan to learn and discover more within the gates of SeaWorld, and a young girl can once again contemplate pursuing such an unbelievably rewarding career as that of an animal trainer.
It is a humbling experience to hear that I was able to play a role in shaping a childʼs dream all those years ago, and it is an even greater honor to know that a tumultuous experience of recent has given me a second opportunity to play a part in restoring that same dream now. Two days brought two separate, unprompted, and honest conversations that allowed me to share my insight and experience of recent. Both days have resulted in anotherʼs restoration of hope and faith in a park that has had such an amazing influence on my life.
Two small drops of water, rippling towards SeaWorldʼs wave of change as it contributes to a message of their dedication to conservation and care. I feel grateful and privileged because SeaWorld gave me an opportunity to care for these amazing creatures. Now, I have become appreciative of how a more disconnected and confusing time in my life has lead to a chance to clarify the murky waters of this captivity debate. I applaud SeaWorld as they continue to inspire a new generation in even more amazing ways.
For that brief time in my life, I was a part of a message that didnʼt quite fit. So I left the wrong story to contribute to the right cause. Life… Happens. Just as certain circumstances lead others to rally behind one cause, my own life experiences have lead me back in support of SeaWorld. Iʼve been on both sides of the war and sat between the two battling perspectives.
Ultimately, actions spoke louder than words for me.
Since the age of three, SeaWorld has inspired me. For ten years, they allowed me the opportunity to live a dream and use that dream to inspire others. Now, Iʼve never been prouder to support and stand beside SeaWorld as they pave the way for even more amazing things to come.
Bridgette is a former Killer Whale trainer and was a part of the film Blackfish. This is a guest editorial posted on Awesome Ocean discussing her views on the movie, her time as an animal trainer and the future of Killer Whale care at SeaWorld.