A Day in The Life of a SeaWorld Trainer
Perhaps the most recognized brand in marine mammal training, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment employees some of the best trainers in the world. These trainers have become symbols of excellence in the industry. Because of this, many aspiring trainers specifically want to work for SeaWorld. As a marine mammal trainer, your tasks will differ from day to day. I worked at SeaWorld for more than three years and let me tell you, no two days are the same. If you haven’t been to SeaWorld’s Career Camp then you may be wondering what it is like to be a SeaWorld trainer! Let’s take a look at what your day might be like as a SeaWorld trainer.
Good Early Morning!
Beep! Beep! Beep!
The sound of your alarm wakes you up and you look at your clock. It’s 5am. That means you have one hour before you have to be at work. You put on your uniform, eat some cereal, and are out the door by 5:30am.
The rush of the morning has fully awakened you and when you arrive at work you are greeted by thousands of pounds of frozen fish. It is your job to sort these fish into buckets. Without hesitating, you start the laborious task.
Repeatedly, you lift buckets on and off the scale, weighing the correct amount of fish for each animal. You make sure that each animal has enough fish for the day and that the fish they are getting is high quality. Any fish you see that aren’t perfect are thrown out – only the best for your animal friends.
After a few hours you are done sorting fish, but now you are left with a filthy room to clean. You grab the soap and water and start scrubbing. By now it’s 9:00am, the sun is up and your co-workers begin to arrive. When you are done scrubbing the entire team meets in the office for a meeting.
Time to Start Your Day!
You’ve been up since 5:00am but your day is just getting started. In the morning meeting, the animals’ health and well-being are discussed. Any behavior from the animals that seemed out of place from the previous day is noted and everyone is caught up with the latest company news. It’s now late morning and the animals are hungry and ready to eat!
You and your co-workers grab the buckets of fish you prepared and head over to the pool. Before you can feed them, you must make sure that the fish are stuffed with vitamins. When the fish is ready, you give the animals their breakfast and clean the empty buckets.
It’s Show Time!
All of the sudden you hear the crowds of people entering the stadium. It’s 10:00am and time for a show! They have all come to see the SeaWorld trainers interact with the mammals of the sea.
In preparation, you place buckets of fish on stage and arrange any props that may be needed for the show. Once the entire team is zipped up in wetsuits and costumes, you make your way backstage to start the show.
The music begins, the crowd cheers, and from the backstage you enter the water with your animal. The audience can’t see you – but they will. It is just you and this animal starting this show. Once you hear your music cue, you dive underwater; you feel pressure on your feet and begin soaring. You navigate your way through different pools until you are at the bottom of the show pool. You position your feet perfectly on the end of the animal’s nose. He knows what to do. And he should! You trained him to do it! With all his might, he pushes you straight to the surface of the water. You are looking up toward the sky. From underwater it just looks like a big white glow but as you approach the details of the sky take shape. There are a few clouds but it’s mostly sunny. For a moment, you think, what a nice day it will be. Then, in an instant, you feel your head break the surface of the water, you inhale a much-needed breath of air and dive perfectly back into the pool – making the entire ordeal look effortless.
The crowd yells, cheers, whistles and screams. They love it! You love it too! “That was fun,” you think for a moment. Back underwater the same animal who launched you out of the water is now in front of you and vocalizing up a storm! You can tell he is just as excited as you to be in the water together.
The show continues on with a variety of jumps, flips, and splashes. The amazing connection you have with this animal is felt by the audience. The trust you two share is amazing.
The show ends with more clapping and yelling. You can tell the animals find the entire show reinforcing. Do they enjoying doing the show more than you? Perhaps! You bow and run off stage.
That was an awesome way to start your morning.
Afternoon Training Sessions
The afternoon allows for a one hour lunch. It gives you a chance to rest and recuperate from an early morning of sorting fish and performing in the show.
After lunch it is time to complete some training sessions. You and a co-worker are training a younger animal to give a “chuff sample” for the veterinarian. After placing a Petri dish over the blowhole, you ask the animal to exhale. The animal exhales directly into the dish, which is then taken to the veterinary staff and tested to ensure the animal is in optimal health. The session goes very well and you both agree she looks as healthy as ever.
The next session involves you teaching one of your experienced animals to do a front flip. Even though the animal is experienced, the training the day before did not go well. You are intent on getting a good session in today.
Taking your bucket of fish, target pole and whistle you ask the animal to come meet you at stage. As expected, he does. You start with small steps and after each success you make it a little more challenging. After a short while the animal has improved greatly so you decided to end the session. To reward this productive session you start a game of fetch and the two of you play for the next fifteen minutes. Since the animals get all of their food regardless of their participation, you’ve come up with other ways to reinforce them for good behavior. These games of fetch appear to be very reinforcing.
After all the empty buckets from the session are scrubbed, it is time for another show. Just like this morning, you set up the necessary props, change into costume and hit the stage.
In this show, you aren’t being shot out of the water. This time you are in charge of making sure the gates open and close when they should. The show has hundreds of components and requires everyone to work together. Your role as gate operator is just as important as the role of jumping off dolphins! Maybe even more important, considering if the gates don’t open – there is no show!
The show goes smoothly and everyone seems to enjoy themselves.
There is still one more show before the day ends and it starts in 30 minutes. Quickly, you prepare the fish and props for the third and final show. However, you aren’t in this show. Since it is the end of the day, there are lots of other duties that need to be completed. You have been asked to sit this show out and get some other work finished.
End of Day Duties
While the show goes on without you, you cozy up to the computer and input the records for the day. This includes what the animals did, how much food they ate, and any notable events. You also make sure that any dirty clothes and towels are cleaned. After scrubbing down the locker-room showers, the show ends.
The animals are asked to move into the pools where they will “sleep” overnight. You and the other trainers open gates and give all the animals access to the show pool and two others. They’ll have three pools they can swim in and out of all night.
Once the animals are “put to bed,” it’s time for you to attempt to scrub the fish smell off of yourself! You hop in the shower, put on clean clothes, and head home.
When you get home, you are exhausted. You’ve spent the day getting shot out of the water by powerful animals, training, cleaning, and doing computer work. You make a microwave dinner and chuckle – you realize you spent two hours this morning preparing food for the animals, and only spent 1 minute and 15 seconds preparing dinner for yourself.
As your head hits the pillow, you feel happy to be in bed. As you drift off to sleep, you feel thankful for your day. And as you leave your last waking moments behind, you realize you have the best job in the world.
[Author Note: Kyle Kittleson is a former SeaWorld trainer and author of the book, “Wear a Wetsuit at Work: How You Can Become a Marine Mammal Trainer.”]