When I was four, just after my father completed his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, our family moved to Texas.
Growing up, and as far back as I can remember, my dream was to work with dolphins and become a (dolphin) Trainer at SeaWorld® (pre-Blackfish).
Before that dream became a reality, I remember always being interested in learning more by reading and studying as many books (and encyclopedias) on dolphins, whales, oceanography, and marine biology as possible. Unfortunately, there wasn’t access to the Web or Google at that time.
I spent most of my childhood (and through high school) as a swimmer and played water polo on our high school swim team.
I also enjoyed competing on our neighborhood swim team and in AAU. I spent many summers lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons, which were always fun to be a part of.
“After the magic moment when my eyes were opened to the sea, it was no longer possible to see, think, and live as before.”
At a very young age, my first scuba-diving experience was in 1973 in the Pacific Ocean. I remember taking a boat ride out (with a friendly local dive shop) to a well-known dive spot. This was my first time jumping into the ocean with dive gear on.
After I plunged in, I waited for the bubbles to rise to see clearly. Through the lens of my mask, I looked up through the crystal clear aqua-blue water and felt invigorated. I remember seeing so many colorful and intricate “creatures” and corals.
From that day on, I became completely stoked about marine life, marine biology, and this new underwater world.
Videos (below) by Kyle McBurnie. (Yeah, I know, I need to post my own marine videos, right?)…
In 1980, I traveled to Maui for the first time with my family. We stayed for a month and visited what was then a totally unpopulated Wailea beach (The Grand Wailea and Four Season Resorts now encompass the area).
We also visited Molokini Island, which offers some sweet, world-class snorkeling and diving.
We also visited a few other places like Bermuda, Cozumel, The Florida Keys, California (La Jolla), and Puerto Rico (El Conquistador Resort, which has its own private island and offers a picture-perfect place to snorkel).
After university (during the late 80s), I continued learning as much as I could about cetaceans (in addition to this new thing called a personal computer).
I was planning on going back to university again to study marine biology at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute or Texas A&M at Galveston (although I was intrigued by several West Coast university systems that offered impressive curriculums)… and then boom! Sea World was built, and I was thankfully hired there.
At the “Multi-species stadium,” I was able to work with and help train Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), and Pacific black whales (Pseudorca crassidens).
In retrospect, I have humbly made a 180° shift in my views about marine parks and how humans interact with captive marine mammals.
Arguably, one of the most impactful and successful documentary films, Blackfish fundamentally contributed to eliminating SeaWorld’s breeding program in less than three years and continues to impact how we view whale and dolphin captivity.
The Cove won an Oscar (Academy Award) in 2010 for Best Documentary.
As a Trainer (behaviorist), it was a surreal experience to be up close and “work” daily with all four different species. In retrospect, I believe they are better off in their natural (pelagic) habitat. The “Lags” (Pacific white-sided dolphins) are pictured below (and yes, that’s me on the left with a huge smile because I’m totally stoked to be there).
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