Am I Interviewing to be a Navy Seal? Nope, Killer Whale Trainer.
The entrance exam for the following employment includes a 67-meter freestyle swim, a 33-meter underwater swim, and a 7.3-meter free dive to retrieve a small weight at the bottom of a pool. That’s part one. If you fail to qualify on one of these three tests, you are casually walked out of the facility with a true sense of shame. Your exam also includes a public-speaking test that involves a ten-minute memorized speech and a rigorous interview process that often lasts months. Is any of this sounding familiar yet?
Well it should, because these are the barriers of entry to becoming a killer whale trainer with SeaWorld Entertainment.
These people have the fortunate task of being as athletic as a Navy Seal, as aquatic as a dolphin, and paid like a night manager at Dairy Queen. There are many parallels to be drawn between these highly unique individuals and professional athletes, however.
Killer whale trainers have an expiration date. Much like your usual professional athlete, there is a “best if used by” sticker on every trainer employed by SeaWorld. Will they still be a trainer at 40? Probably more like a park docent at that point. The catch is that they are nowhere near the level of compensation as a traditional professional athlete, which might leave them dead in the water in their later years (Pun intended). Not to mention that a killer whale trainer has to go through an apprenticeship which can take as long as four years to complete. Oh, and there’s the minute detail that there’s still a killer whale in the show at SeaWorld Orlando that has been involved, though not clearly participated, in three human deaths.
There is also a huge supply of applicants, but little demand for trainers. There are 22 killer whales interspersed at their three theme parks, so they have every right to make the hiring process as exclusive as possible. Most people don’t study marine biology in college, and those who do can end up making way more money than killer whale trainers while being half as athletic. Instead of working at Sea World, you might as well become a professional water polo player.
Much like other brands that have acquired the right to be synonymously identified to something (much like Kleenex to facial tissue and Google to search engine), SeaWorld has officially turned every killer whale you ever see into Shamu. This was the name of the first whale the park acquired from an aquarium in Seattle, and have been named this ever since for the park’s bread and butter: the Shamu show. Getting to swim with Shamu is far beyond the major leagues of the animal training world; it is much like being the MVP of any accredited sports league for five years running. These trainers also may not have had to toil much in minor leagues to make their way (LeBron comes to mind), but they are champions at what they do.
So with all this said, why is it a bummer that becoming a killer whale trainer is out of my reach? Because at my first Shamu show, they told me anything is possible if I just believe. After listing out these qualifications, it seems to me that an out of shape guy with a business degree doesn’t have a chance in hell at a position. Then again, I guess I might not a shot at any other sports career, respectively.
So there you have it, a less than comprehensive approach on why killer whale trainers should be paid as much as any professional athlete (minus water polo players). I would be more than willing to lobby for these overworked, underpaid individuals, and to illustrate my quest to come I will use SeaWorld’s own slogan: The Voyage Begins.