Sensing he was about to lose control, Rokeach gave Keto another hand target. This time Keto ignored it. He went after Martínez, driving him to the bottom of the pool with his nose.
Alexis Martínez also paid close attention to the social structure and behavior of the whales. Like any good trainer, he knew that the better he got to know each whale—its moods, its predilections, its likes and dislikes—the safer and more effective he would be. He kept notes in journals, recording how the whales interacted with one another and how they behaved during training and shows. Between June and October 2009, Martínez focused his entries on Kohana—who would undergo an ultrasound in August to determine if she was pregnant—and made reference to her frequent slowness in practice and training, as well as her frequent unhappy vocalizations. “Bad vocals in Pool A (alone),” Martínez noted in June. “Back to feeling insecure when separated, alone, both in shows & in sessions.” In late September, he noted that Kohana’s vocalizations and attitude had improved but that she “always has rises & falls in temperament (unstable).”
In August, he summarized the complicated sexual dynamics in the pools, which also affected the stability of the killer whale grouping. “Keto is obsessed with controlling Kohana, he won’t separate from her, including shows,” he wrote. “Tekoa is very sexual when he is alone with Kohana (penis out). Keto is sexual with Tekoa.” On September 2, 2009, without elaborating, he noted that “Brian [Rokeach, SeaWorld’s supervising trainer at Loro Parque at the time] had a small incident with Keto the first hour of the morning,” and that it was “a very bad day for Keto.” On September 12, he wrote, “All the animals are bad. Dry day for Kohana.”
Here’s a video of Martínez performing with Kohana in spring of 2009.
Sometimes the charged dynamic between the whales would get a very public airing. During one show that Allee was working in the summer of 2007, Tekoa was performing when Keto raced into the show pool, rammed him, and then proceeded to chase him. After the trainers regained control, they completed the performance with Tekoa, even though blood was visibly seeping from his wounds. His final display of behavior was a full-body pose on the main stage. “The last image the audience saw was the stage covered in Tekoa’s blood,” Allee recalls.
Allee had seen intra-whale conflict during her work at SeaWorld San Antonio, but the dynamic at Loro Parque seemed different. “I never saw so many instances in which the animals were out of control or beating up on each other,” she told me. “There were lots of shows I directed where the trainers did not do water work or have control of the animals.”
IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW how the challenge of adapting to a new life in Loro Parque’s pools increased any potential danger the trainers faced. But two years before Keto killed Martínez, Loro Parque almost lost a female trainer, 29-year-old Claudia Vollhardt, to an attack by Tekoa. In October 2007, Vollhardt was working a training session with Tekoa, who weighed about 3,000 pounds at the time, under the supervision of SeaWorld senior trainer Steve Aibel—who was attacked by an orca at SeaWorld San Antonio in 2004.
When killer whales perform a behavior correctly, they are “bridged” (often with a whistle sound, in essence signaling “well done”) and then receive reinforcement in the form of a reward, such as a fish or a playful rubdown. When they don’t perform correctly, the trainer reacts with a three-second neutral response and withholds the reward. This is known as a least-reinforcing scenario, or LRS. Repeated failed attempts—and the corresponding lack of reward—can sometimes lead to a frustrated killer whale. “The question the trainer has to constantly be asking is: Is this animal mildly frustrated but still has the ability to stay with it and work through the problem?” explains Samantha Berg, who worked as a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando’s Shamu Stadium in the early 1990s. “Or have I gone beyond this animal’s limits and it’s time to cut the losses, take a break, and start over?”