Carol Ray spent three years training animals at the large marine mammal aquarium SeaWorld before leaving the industry in 1991. Now the former high flying killer whale trainer is speaking out about what life was like as an employee for the now highly criticized amusement park. Ray was one of several former SeaWorld trainers that was featured in the new documentary “Blackfish.” The film takes the viewer on an engaging ride as it explores what life in captivity is like for the ocean’s top predator, the killer whale.

Along with Ray those interviewed in “Blackfish” showed viewers a dark side to America’s cuddly orca whale, Shamu. “It doesn't take long to realize what is happening there is wrong. My quitting was a difficult decision because of the love I had for the animals, but in the end the cumulative effect of incidents and experiences made me question what I was doing there,” Ray told Latin Times. One of SeaWorld’s procedures that “Blackfish” focuses on is the removal of young calves from their mothers.

In the wild killer whales remain with their mothers for their entire lives. The bond orcas share with one another especially mother and child lasts a lifetime. For Ray seeing the original baby Shamu, Kalina removed from her mother was what told her leaving SeaWorld was the right decision. “You could say that the tipping point for me was the experience of watching Kalina's separation and removal from her mother, Katina and realizing the tremendous stress and grief we inflicted upon them.”

“Katina was an incredibly bonded and loving mother orca,” Ray continued. “And the decision to move her offspring away was made by management purely for business reasons with no consideration whatsoever for the best interest of the animals. I knew that was the last straw for me.”  Ray said she wanted to be a part of “Blackfish” so people would have an understanding of the truth of what captivity is for these animals. “I was partially driven to provide any insights that would help protect the trainers, who are as exploited as the orcas, and prevent another unnecessary tragedy.”

The tragedy Ray was speaking about was the 2010 death of senior SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. On Feb. 24, 2010 Brancheau was working with the largest killer whale in captivity. Tilikum weighs 12,000 lbs. and had before that day taken the lives of two people. While Brancheau and Tilikum were doing what is known as a “Relationship Session” for a captivated audience, Tilikum grabbed Brancheau by the arm pulling her into his tank. Tilikum attacked and killed Brancheau and now her death has become the catalyst for the demand for change in the marine mammal park industry.

Ray said what also led her to appear in “Blackfish” was “a sense of doing right for the animals, as I’ve known for a long time that they don’t deserve to be [in captivity.]” Using interviews from experts in the field of wild Orca behavior and biology “Blackfish” explores the theory that the mundane day to day activities of captivity has led to psychological trauma on the part of the whales. Focusing on Tilikum, a 12,000 LB orca responsible for the deaths of three people “Blackfish” suggests captivity leads to anger, frustration and aggressiveness in the whales.

Footage taken from SeaWorld shows are used as evidence in the film that when large predatory animals are confined to tight spaces they will turn aggressive. In one clip from “Blackfish” a killer whale glides onto a slide out area revealing a large gash near its tail, the result of whale on whale aggression. Using images like that “Blackfish” has become a worldwide phenomenon and those who watch it cannot help but feel as though they need to do something in order to help these animals.

Known as “Blackfish Backlash” SeaWorld has been taking a large amount of criticism for their business practices with many viewers shouting for the closure of the park and the return of its animals to the wild. Recently SeaWorld has seen a string of high profile bands drop out of their “Bands, Brew & BBQ” event. Artists like Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick and REO Speedwagon have pulled out of their gigs citing “Blackfish” as the cause. Fans have also petitioned acts to cancel their upcoming shows.

“I feel immense gratitude,” Ray said regarding the acts canceling SeaWorld. “To have high profile performers listening to their fans, and taking a stance about something so publicly is remarkable. It is wonderful to have artists listen to and respect the desires of their fans, and that many have also gone beyond by making personal statements about orcas in captivity is a real bonus.” SeaWorld released a statement regarding “Blackfish” when it was first released calling the film inaccurate and misleading. When bands begin to drop their SeaWorld gigs the company told CBS:

“This is a coordinated campaign of digital harassment and does not in any sense represent the opinions of the American public. A far better measure is the number of people actually coming to SeaWorld.” The amusement park is planning on replacing the acts that have canceled but may find they have a hard time doing so. Fans have been petitioning performers asking them to cancel and even remove their music from the “Shamu Rocks” show as the loud sounds blasting from the speakers is damaging to the sound sensitive marine mammals.

As for the main subject of “Blackfish” Tilikum he spends most of his time doing nothing but floating at the surface of his tank. Ray says guests of SeaWorld have sent her photos of Tilikum as they are concerned about his quality of life. “I know that the very short segment of shows he is brought out to do, when he is included, are exactly the same as the ones he did 20 years ago. He is given meds and gelatin for poor health and dehydration,” Ray said.

Animal activists call for SeaWorld to close its doors and others say they need to refocus their business model to sea sanctuaries and rehabilitation. Ray has her own opinions as to what the future of SeaWorld looks like. “It feels like, right now, SeaWorld is content to look the other way. It's as if they think the Blackfish effect will end at some point and business will return to normal. Maybe that's just because all their PR attempts have fallen flat, at best.

“But if that is the case, they're seriously underestimating the power of this combination: truth, plus respect people have for these animals. SeaWorld will, eventually, cease to have an audience large enough to sustain them if they choose not to evolve with society and change their business model. My hope is that they decide to research and support efforts to determine which of their animals might be suitable for retirement to a sanctuary once they've phased out captive breeding; they stop the circus shows for entertainment.”

“They [need to] start actually contributing a significant portion of their profits to conservation efforts; they develop a true education program; and they continue to provide the valuable services that they do contribute such as their manatee and sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation programs.” Speaking about the success “Blackfish” has had on the public Ray said she could never have imagined the film would have as significant an impact as it seems to have had.

“It's been one wonderful surprise after another to see how it has been received and the incredible impact it has had all around the world. In my wildest dreams I never thought things would have played out the way they have. In the end I hope it is the orcas who benefit from the impact of the film and the public's new awareness of their plight. To be honest, when I sat down to be interviewed, I had no idea what the filmmakers intentions were or what the end product of the film might be. There was no guidance, just "answer honestly" and that was easy enough to do.”