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Voice of the Orcas: 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!

"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. 
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 anytime 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.
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.
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.  
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    Thank you for coming forward Cynthia.
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