ORCA trainer Alexis Martinez was already fearing for his safety when he climbed into a pool with the 6,600lb killer whale Keto.
He had confided in his girlfriend “something could happen at any time” – and his fears came true on Christmas Eve, 2004.
Martinez was an experienced trainer, having worked with the animals for three years at Loro Parque in Tenerife.
He was described as “handsome, generous, and funny” by his partner Estefanía Luis Rodriguez.
And the trainer, 29, felt all was not well at the exhibit he worked at, Orca Ocean.
He had told his girlfriend the killer whales were becoming disobedient, disruptive and aggressive.
And he was right – as just weeks later, Alexis was horrifically killed by an orca during a training session.
His life came to a gruesome end following a brutal attack by Keto – which was dismissed as an “unfortunate accident”.
Despite his skill, years of experience and intuition in dealing with the enormous creatures, he was no match for the beast.
The grim autopsy report revealed he his organs had been ripped apart and his chest was crushed before the orca then “played” with his body in the tank.
Alexis had started his career in 2004 when he bagged a job at Loro Parque in Tenerife – one of only two parks in Europe to house killer whales.
Two years later, the park loaned four orcas from SeaWorld who were quickly thrust into a training regime for performances.
Accomplished trainer Alexis was instrumental in leading the marine mammals in rehearsals for an upcoming festive show.
He had been caring for a 6,600lb male, named Keto, who had been flown over from the US after being born into captivity – never experiencing life in the open ocean.
During a morning session on December 24, according to a corporate incident report, Keto “appeared in a good mood”.
Alexis joined the orca in the pool while another trainer, Brian Rokeach, positioned himself on the stage, while several other members of staff mulled around.
The 29-year-old is said to have attempted to perform a stand-on spy hop, where he balances on the killer whale’s rostrum as it rises up and out of the water.
But he took a tumble as Keto leaned to one side, before trying the stunt again – when he again fell into the water.
The trainer responded with a reinforcing scenario, giving a neutral reaction and withholding the reward, according to the report.
The 14-year-old killer whale was then rewarded with two handfuls of fish after he obeyed the commands of another trainer.
A hopeful Alexis then opted to attempt a haul-down into stage haul-out – meaning he would ride the orca down into the pool and up onto the stage.
However, Keto had dived too deep into the 12-metre pool – forcing his trainer to abandon the move in the depths of the water.
After the pair surfaced, the orca “appeared to position himself between Alexis and the stage”.
The 29-year-old then waited for the animal to calm and requested a stage call via underwater tone.
The animal in question moved towards him and hit him and violently played with his body.
His colleague Brian suggested that Keto did not appear “committed to remaining under control” and looked “a little big-eyed”.
The fellow trainer then instructed Alexis to swim slowly to another pool while he gave the killer whale a hand target.
Yet as Ket noticed his mentor was on the move, the three ton orca made a beeline for him – ignoring Brian.
The killer whale then hurtled towards Alexis, forcing him underneath the water with his huge beak for several minutes.
Orca Ocean assistant supervisor Rafael Sanchez, in his testimony to investigators, said: “The animal in question moved towards him and hit him and violently played with his body.”
Frantic trainers desperately tried to call Keto to the surface, signalling him by slapping the water and banging a bucket.
After around 30 seconds had passed, the killer whale finally obeyed and discarded Alexis’ lifeless body at the bottom of the pool.
But the ordeal was not over yet – as Keto took a quick breath and returned to inspect his victim, before bringing him to the surface with his beak.
Other Loro Parque employees eventually managed to direct the gigantic orca into another pool, before retrieving his trainer’s body.
The 29-year-old had blood streaming from his nose and mouth while his colleagues hopelessly tried to revive him.
An autopsy report later found that Keto had slammed into Alexis with such force that it caused his chest to cave in.
It concluded that although the immediate cause of death was drowning, Alexis’ death had been “violent”.
The report describes multiple cuts and bruises, the collapse of both lungs, fractured ribs and sternum, a lacerated liver, severely damaged vital organs, and puncture marks “consistent with the teeth of an orca”.
SeaWorld temporarily suspended waterwork in all of its parks following his death, as did Loro Parque.
But Alexis’ employers initially characterised the death as an “accident”, insisting his pummelled body showed no signs of violence.
They claimed he “was knocked by the orca in an unexpected reaction of the animal” while Keto was “shifting his position.”
Keto had in fact caused catastrophic internal bleeding.
In a cruel twist of fate, it later emerged Alexis had documented his concerns over the killer whales in his diary.
He wrote how Keto had displayed “controlling” behaviour with the three orcas – Tekoa, a male, and females, Kohana and Skyla – he had arrived from SeaWorld with.
Other investigations later revealed the killer orca had rammed Tekeoa on one occasion, leaving him bleeding.
On another, Keto had taken a chunk out of Kohana’s dorsal fin.
Alexis has told his girlfriend he was exhausted due to the stress of working with the orcas and the pressure of the upcoming Christmas show, reported journalist Tim Zimmermann.
“My job is especially risky, and I really need to be well rested and ready,” Alexis told his girlfriend Estefanía.
“With everything that is going on, something could happen at any time.”
Alexis’ family have said they feel like they were “lied to” over his death – with Estefanía claiming she was at first told he was “fine” when contacted by the park, even though they knew he was already dead.
The park has however defended their handling of his, death and insisted an incorrect information shared can “fairly be attributed to the nature of an emergency response”.
Just two months after his horror death, devoted killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau was dragged into the water by an orca during a post-show routine.
Dawn and Alexis known each other from her time at Loro Parque.
She bent over the tank’s edge to rub Tilikum when his behavior suddenly changed and he pulled her into the water by her ponytail.
Harrowing scenes saw Dawn shaken and thrown about as terrified guests were frantically ushered out by staff.
According to reports, the 40-year-old was scalped and had her arm bitten off during the attack.
Dawn’s shocking death made headlines around the world, calling into question how ethical keeping whales in captivity is – with much speculation focused on Tilikum’s treatment and life.
Many experts and former trainers believe Tilikum turned serial killer purely as a result of his traumatic time in captivity, with the landmark 2013 documentary Blackfish shining a light on longstanding concerns.
Tilikum died in 2017 after facing serious health issues, including a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection.
His death came just a year after SeaWorld announced they were ending their breeding program following years of campaigners railing against them.
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