It was a hot and rainy summer day in August 2007. I was sixteen years old at the time and was participating in SeaWorld Orlando’s Career Camp program. This was my second year of doing the camp programs at any SeaWorld park. I joined my camp-mates at Shamu Stadium to watch the Believe show when she did a segment called “Something FarGreater” with a killer whale named Kayla. I can remember watching Dawn and Kayla swimming side by side as the music played throughout Shamu Stadium. Whenever Kayla was ready to do the next act of the show, Dawn would jump into the water with Kayla and the next act would begin from there. The moment when she both, hugged and played with Kayla on the platform, it just simply, captured my spirits on every level. It just showed you that the bonds between trainers and whales is so strong, that it’s indescribable. This segment was not the first time I saw Dawn perform in my week I was in Orlando, On my first night, she did a segment in the nighttime killer whale show Shamu Rocks. During that segment, I can remember her interacting with a killer whale named Taima and her young calf Malia in most unique fashion that was very hard to explain. During that segment,Taima would allow little Malia to interact with Dawn because, maybe she knew that while she could have easily turned on her in order to protect her calf. Instead, Taima allowed Dawn to go near Malia thus, interact with her while her mother watched carefully. Back to that rainy afternoon, after the Believe show ended, I asked my camp counselor if I could speak
to a trainer. Indeed, the counselor said “yes”; so, I went down the narrow stairs and there was Dawn standing next to a small platform. When I went up to her, I introduced myself to her before we started speaking to each other about how great life at SeaWorld was, her whales for like a few minutes before I complimented to her about her performance during the show. After I arranged to have a photo of us together be taken, my counselor called me back to rejoin my group before I hugged her good-bye. It was a very special time indeed.
Following in her footsteps…..
If there was one thing Dawn and I shared in common, it was the fact that our passion for marine life and hopes and dreams to one day work with animals began at an early age. In my case, my dream of wanting to become an animal trainer began when I was only five years old when a dolphin trainer took me back stage of the Whale and Dolphin Stadium to meet a bottlenose dolphin named Jenny. In the case of Dawn Brancheau, she decided to set her heart out on wanting to be an animal trainer after watching a Shamu show at SeaWorld when she was only nine years old. That dream did come true 16 years later for her in 1994 before she went on to train killer whales two years later in 1996. However, several years early when Dawn worked at a marine park in New Jersey, Dawn’s passion for caring for all the animals in her expanded when she provided 24/7 care for a newborn sea lion pup. From there, Dawn grew more compassion for ever animal she worked with. For me on the other hand, I still continue to follow her footsteps by getting a lot of experience with as many aquatic animals as possible, which I have several years of now. Still, after all those years, I continue to work towards that dream of one day working with animals. Only this time, I will honor Dawn’s legacy with every experience I acquire with every marine mammal I get to either work or interact with or through my internships at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.