How it all begins

orca trainer uw

It really isn’t an unusual story from childhood.  Children aspire to be astronauts, cowboys, firefighters, princesses, pilots and sea captains to name just a few vocations we admire in our youth.  Little girls love horses and little boys often have a predilection to dogs and fishing.  Many of us had a vision in our youth of what we would become as adults. The only difference is that my first notion of what I wanted to do for a career was actually realized.

It must have been around 1978 on one of my annual birthday trips to the theme parks in Orlando, Florida.  We went to Sea World that year.  I had never been to an oceanarium and was a persuading factor in picking that park versus Circus World or Disney World.  After all, I was “getting too old for those kid’s parks”.

I remember the first time I saw a multispecies show in Shamu Stadium. Killer Whales and Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins were interacting with people in the water and under the water. It seemed like a scene from the mythical Atlantis.  You could see them whirling past through a thick glass portion of the tank.  The wave of water spilled over the edge of the tank, displaced as the animal swam by, much to the delight of the children and the consternation of the adults who were drenched by a wall of water.  The trainer was perched rigid and prone with her feet positioned on the tip of the whale’s rostrum like a hood ornament as the black and white leviathan cruised the perimeter.  The acrobatic swimming, the synchronicity, the clear communication occurring between human and animal; I was mesmerized.  If reincarnation exists, there was a moment on that October afternoon in Orlando when I was able to peer back into my past lives.  Back to a time or times when I had done this before, only there was something different.  At the age of 9, the concept of exploitation, operant conditioning, anthropomorphism and the realities of life for animals in captivity where not ethical issues rooted in my fragile, eggshell mind.  But I felt something true in my soul and there was no mistaking the calling because that is exactly what it was.  It was a calling.  I remember it as clear today as I did that day so many years ago.

We went to Sea World for my next birthday and likely the next one after that.  After seeing the Killer Whales and their trainers interacting, there was no doubt in my mind what I would do one day.

I would be a Killer Whale Trainer.

By my 15th birthday, I was collecting contact information and networking. Reaching out to animal trainers all over the world through letters and personal progress reports to demonstrate how I was diligently working towards my goal.  Gaining animal care experience through volunteering at local wildlife rehabilitation centers, taking college-level biology classes, completing my SCUBA certification and even lifeguarding part-time while still attending high school.  My motivation was to hone my skills as a swimmer and gain an advantage over the countless people, just like me, who wanted to work with marine mammals.

Out of over 300 contacts I reached out to, there was a network of 12 trainers who corresponded with me regularly through high school and shortly after graduation…I received a phone call.  It was Dan Blasko, a Curator at Sea World of Ohio. The call went something like this:

DAN: “Are you still interested in training marine mammals, Carrie?”

ME: “Yes, and I am ready!”

Within 90 days of that call, I was packing my Isuzu Amigo and moving across-country to accept a position as one of less than 400 marine mammal trainers in the country.   <*)))<<