Saturday, July 27, 2013

Meet Cynthia Payne: Another former SeaWorld Staffer Comes Forward after Blackfish

Preface:  Cynthia Payne is a former SeaWorld animal care handler and current president of a company in North Carolina called Go Green, Inc, which she founded in 2007. She's lived in Holland & Germany and is an accomplished equestrian rider. After watching Blackfish, she reached out to us, at Voice of the Orcas, with this moving testimony, which we will publish in two parts. 

She was employed by SeaWorld, in Orlando, from 1992 to 1994, and told us, "I truly, truly cared for the animals and admired several of the people I worked with and for, but I also recognized it was wrong." Cynthia adds her voice to ours, and to a growing number of former industry workers, and citizens, who are speaking out against companies who display intelligent, self-aware creatures for human amusement. We welcome her strong voice to ours. Thank you, Cynthia!

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Cynthia bottle feeds a small manatee as others surround her

"Over the course of three years and as an employee of the animal care department, SeaWorld of Florida, Orlando,  I witnessed the deaths and misery of several animals including that of [orca] Nootka’s stillborn calf."

[Below is Cynthia's story - unedited] 

During this time, I participated in “whale watch” [aka "night-watch"]; extra personnel to watch for the upcoming birth of Nootka’s calf. She seemed separated from all of the whales, her only apparent communication was through the gates. Touch, feel, social interaction is a critical component to a whale's life.  I remember so many nights of sitting up with her, listening to her cry at the gates.  I was young, 18-19 years of age. What did I know, I thought? But the doubts were amassing as to my remaining [employment] at SeaWorld.   

Cynthia on Night-watch at Shamu Stadium
On the night of her calf's birth, I was present, next to her pool on whale watch.  Nootka gave birth to a stillborn calf. 

The next few hours were a horror movie.

Staff members, everywhere, were giving orders and decided they must immediately remove the stillborn calf, thus refusing Nootka any time to grieve. 

Nootka fought and fought AND FOUGHT. She carried the stillborn calf repeatedly, trying to keep it at bay from the staff. 

Mercilessly, the staff seemed intent on the calf’s immediate removal. I turned to the vet on-site, almost in tears and I asked “Can't she have a moment to grieve?”  There was no debate, there was 'no time,' he stated. They needed to take the calf immediately.


The "Animal Care" Department at SeaWorld of Florida in 1994


This night replays over and over in my head, I can still hear her screams. 

The SeaWorld staff dropped a net the depth and width of the pool.  Nootka would try to pick up the net  and then at other times push her baby over it, all in an effort to escape this onslaught of people, everywhere, screaming orders and trying to take her calf away. Certainly, any mother would need, desire, require some time to grieve?

They gave her nothing. They took the stillborn. Nootka was forced into a holding pool, hardly enough space to turn around.

I sat with her that night on whale watch. I had witnessed everything. She cried through the night.  She cried and cried. I still hear her screams and I still wish I could have helped her. 

I sat in total disbelief at the events of that night. I was horrified... feeling as a participant, of any kind. She died shortly after this night. I was hopeful she was in a better place. This night replays as a vivid movie over and over again in my head with her screams and cries sounding just as sorrowful as they did that night .  I remember feeling sickened at my participation and then relief knowing… I was leaving SeaWorld.

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We will publish part two, the conclusion of Cynthia's Testimony, in about one week. In that piece, she'll talk about orca Gudrun and her calf Nyar, two bottle nose dolphins, Beachie & Cecil (see photo below), as well as the tragic death of Gwen, the walrus.  

Cynthia with Cecil & Beachie, just prior to her quitting SeaWorld in December 1994




30 comments:

  1. This is gut-wrenching, I am in tears and I am sickened yet not surprised by this story. WHAT kind of people can do this to these innocents and sleep well at night? :****(

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    1. The No-Hearted, No-Souled, Stock-Price-Only species. "Look at me, I've got money"-type.

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  2. The tide of opinion on captivity is turning in favor of the Cetaceans. Captivity needs to end.

    Captivity is not the nice place we have been led to "Believe" it is.

    I have had the privilege to get to know many Cetaceans in my life including a few Orcas all without the restrictions of being a trainer or having had to work at a place like Sea World.

    They are not the 'dumb dangerous animals' many stories make them out to be.

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  3. This is beyond beyond ... no more SeaWorld marine mammals, unless they are re-hab'ing them ... this is all just a horrific tragedy ...

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  4. Absolutely Horrifying. These miraculous intelligent creatures should not be placed in captivity for any reason unless as Claire stated for the purpose of rehab and with the intent of reintegration to their natural environment. I stand against captivity.

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  5. I would love to know what the exact reasoning was on Sea World's part here? Did they think the stillborn calf somehow posed a threat to the mother?? This does not make sense to me at all. I totally don't get it

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    1. In all likelihood the calf was urgently removed so Nootka could be separated to the back pools, and all evidence of her stillborn, including expulsion of the placenta, could be "cleaned up" prior the Shamu Stadium opening to the public. I.e. "The Show must go on." Sounds, harsh, I know. That's the way it was, and probably still is.

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    2. It's fairly standard in any animal husbandry to instantly remove any dead ones. It is believed seeing dead ones causes upset and that their removal causes them and their death to be forgotten. People are also prevented from seeing death, from acknowledging death. Almost like we want to pretend it doesn't exist. But animals have a more prosaic view of death and seeing the dead one seems to bring closure. It is slowly being realised. Too slowly.

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    3. I have read on many dog breeding sites that when a puppy is born dead, which i guess is common in large litters, i have had labs and golden retrievers with > 11 pups and one or two of them almost always seem to die the first day. Anyway, it seems the current knowledge base from dog breeders is to leave the dead animal with the mother for a period of time that she recognizes that it is not alive, but not so long that she will eat it. This behavior is porobably instentive and that a dead puppy would smell and attract other predators to the litter and the mother.
      I believe that orcas are way more intelligent then dogs, so if this is the case i can understand how it would be extremely distressing for a still born calf to be removed from its mother with no grieving period.
      I am ashamed to say that i have been to sea world on several occasions, and bought into the company lies about the animals there. I remember asking a trainer what is wrong with there fins, why is it curled up with the answer give to me is that happens in about 50 percent of orcas, which i find out later really only happens in one percent of free whales. The other upsetting lie is the life span of the orca, which sea world gives at 25- 35 years, which is true for captive whales living in such a closed environment.
      I will never again give this "kidnappers" for lack of a better term, one dollar.
      I have heard somewhere that in 50 years humans will look back and see this as a barbaric practice, i don't have 50 years to wait, and i see it today as one of the most cruel things we as humans are doing to other species. If you have not seen Blackfish please watch it, tweet it, Instagram it, Facebook it, and tell everyone you know to watch this eyeopening film.

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  6. Thank you for coming forward, Cynthia! Your story is very eye-opening. It must have been so hard to experience those events.

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  7. I too am sickened by these stories. I am going to call the sea world at San Diego and Florida to tell them just how evil they are!!!!
    As a third grade teacher I will educate my students about these parks and the importance of these majestic creatures freedom!!!!

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  8. Thank you, Cynthia for speaking out and telling your story. As heartbreaking as it is to hear---we need to hear it and to know these things.

    It's time for change.

    The Shamu show has got to go.

    The costs have been too great. The benefits have been too few.

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  9. This is heart-breaking.
    It also shows that places like SeaWorld need to shut down the mindless 'entertainment' area of the parks and focus on educating people about orca's and other marine life in a new way.
    it's fine to re-habilitate marine life, or aid them in medical care if it's needed, but things like this? It doesn't and should need to happen, no one learns anything from it and the fat cats who run these parks just want the public's money.

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  11. So sad. Worse is if you witness but can't do much about it at the time. It is so good and absolutely necessary that you speak out the truth now. Most people can not image what happens "behind the curtains". And many people simply DO NOT WANT to see the truth. Somehow they ALL must wake up and face the sad and cruel reality. It's not only horrible things happening in water parks; it's probably everywhere where animal have to entertain humans. We owe it to those that already died and those who still suffer to set an end to all this. No next generation shall get caught from nature, not bred in captivity. It will take many more years, but the more we fight / educate people, the closer we get to our goal. Freedom for the animals.

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  12. Awesome Cynthia. Your voice is exactly what is needed here. Empty the tanks needs to happen otherwise we are going to get a repeat performance of what this whale and her calf went through year after year...and we are better than that!

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  13. Not surprised by this inhumane treatment by SeaWorld. I used to go there at least once a year, sometimes two. But no more! The show must go on? Management has drilled it into their heads so there's no conscience, remorse, even when seeing how distressed Nootka was. Also they wanted to keep their jobs more than to show compassion. We need to stop this now! Thanks Cynthia for speaking up now!

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  14. support you in your honesty. let it rip. we must change the tide here and now for animals exploited and tortured for profit. beyond evil.

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  15. that includes all billions of sentient animals suffering in factory farms AT THIS MOMENT.

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  16. Resident Killer Whales (the ones we find in captivity) are known to spend their entire lives with their mothers in the same pod. That didn't prevent SeaWorld from moving young ones. It is quite evident even to the non expert that the separation causes deep distress expressed through vocalization.

    Quickly removing a stillborn calf appears to cause similar distress. It would be nice to hear what scientists have to say about the "proper" way to take away the dead calf when orcas are in captivity.

    Elephants, who are also extremely social, actually mourn the dead as a group.

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    1. And in the natural habitat they have all their pod family members to support them and then when she is ready she can give up the dead baby in her own time. However, I doubt there are many stillbirth orcas in the natural habitat.

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  17. SeaWorld cannot keep being sponsored.. people have to do something against this.. They are not all powerful. Something has to be done.

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  20. Wow. I've been so moved by the accounts here. I've never liked zoos, aquariums and circuses even as a kid because the animals looked sad to me. But I had no idea the abuse was this bad. My heart breaks. This crap has got to stop. It's disgusting.

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    1. TP, agreed, and thanks for commenting. It is heart wrenching info and thx for helping spread the word

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