A former trainer at SeaWorld has warned that orca could kill again and his ex-colleagues are first in harm's way.
John Hargrove, a former killer whale trainer for the Orlando theme park, has spoken out about the "violent behaviour" he has witnessed in the animals. Advocating for PETA, the marine mammal professional described the orcas' experience as "lives of quiet desperation" likening their trauma to solitary confinement.
"Physical and psychological damage endured by human prisoners in solitary confinement is well documented," he wrote in an interview forPETA.
"Orcas at amusement parks such as SeaWorld suffer the same fate."
Hargrove experienced this first hand in one of his former charges, an 30-year-old orca named Tilikum.
In 2010 his colleague Dawn Brancheau was killed by Tilikum. The whale had previously killed two other people at the aquarium, but Hargrove did not wish to blame the whale and said this was hardly an isolated incident.
"He is not the villain in this story," said Hargrove. "He's also not the only orca at SeaWorld to kill a trainer."
The orca trainer said he witnessed countless serious injuries and near fatalities during his career, from several whales.
Unnatural confinement in the theme parks has led to violent behaviour, but human minders are the only ones falling victim to the stress-inducing conditions.
Hargrove reported 40 orcas and 300 dolphins have died of chronic stress-related health conditions.
Other symptoms of anxiety exhibiting whales, described by Hargrove, include orca grinding teeth on concrete and headbutting enclosures.
Since leaving SeaWorld the former employee has been calling on visitors to boycott the park.
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In 2016 SeaWorld said it would no longer breed marine mammals in captivity. Tilikum the killer whale died in 2017. However the animals - which can live for decades - will spend the rest of their lives in captivity.
SeaWorld said it was committed to making the current whales the last generation in captivity, but the animals could not be released in the wild.
"Our goal is to help our guests, and the world, explore the wonders around them, and then inspire them to take action to protect wild animals and wild places," says a statement on the park's website.
"SeaWorld's killer whales are vital to that mission, and while they will be the last generation of killer whales at SeaWorld, they will still be around for decades to come."
There are five orca who remain in captivity at the Orlando park.