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Blackfish Brigade

 “Voice of the Orcas” comes to Rochester, New York

Together for the first time since their national debut, a “brigade” of activists will take the stage here in Rochester on May 3rd at Kodak Center for Performing Arts, formerly known as Theater on the Ridge. “Blackfish Brigade-Voice of the Orcas in Upstate New York” is an international symposium which will address the plight of the orcas and other marine mammals who are victims of the entertainment industry. “Blackfish” is a 2013 documentary which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films for wider release. The film primarily focuses on the captivity of “Tilikum,” a killer whale involved in the deaths of three individuals and the consequences of keeping killer whales in captivity.

Our special guests include the actual ex-SeaWorld trainers and Blackfish cast members, Samantha Berg, Jeffrey Ventre, Carol Ray and John Jett. Collectively this panel is being referred to as “Voice of the Orcas” or VOTO. Sharing the stage with them is Phil Demers, ex-Marineland trainer (Niagara Falls), whose recent whistle-blowing of the harsh conditions and mistreatment of the animals at that park has further put the captive industry under the microscope.

Our motivation for hosting this symposium is based on the concept of “Education, Not Exploitation.” The next generation holds the key to the future of our precious wildlife. This event is not a re-showing of the Blackfish documentary. Using short video clips our panel will highlight and discuss the orcas’ extraordinary nature including their exquisite intelligence and sophisticated social structures. The public is welcome to question our panelists and/or speak with them during the ‘Meet & Greet’ reception.

Please join us for an enlightening and inspiring event!

Date: Saturday, May 3rd

Time: 7:00pm

Place: Kodak Center for Performing Arts (formerly Theater on the Ridge)

Where: 200 West Ridge Rd., Rochester, NY

Admission: FREE / Donations appreciated

Meet & Greet Reception: 5:30-6:30pm OR 9:00-10:00pm ($15 admission)

 Samantha Berg, Carol Ray, John Jett, and Jeffrey Ventre are former Seaworld trainers featured in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Sundance 2013 selected film, Blackfish, which has received acclaimed reviews and has been embraced by audiences around the world. Phil Demers is a former marine mammal trainer at Marineland, Niagara Falls, Canada.

Samantha Berg
Samantha Berg grew up in Great Neck, New York and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science from Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY in 1989. Sam was hired at SeaWorld of Florida six months after graduating from college when she was 22 years old. Sam worked at the Orlando park from 1990-1993, and was working at Shamu stadium when Tilikum—the killer whale responsible for the deaths of three people—arrived in Orlando from Sealand of the Pacific. Sam has appeared on the CBS Early Show, Fox and Friends and on NBC to offer her perspective as an ex-SeaWorld trainer on the ethics of killer whale captivity and trainer safety. She is also a character in David Kirby’s popular non-fiction book, “Death at SeaWorld.” Along with her husband, Kevin Meddleton, Sam is a co-owner of an Acupuncture Center and Meditation Studio in Palmer, Alaska and she and her husband also host a weekly radio show called, “Bridge to Everywhere” on

Carol Ray
Carol Ray earned a B.A. degree in Psychology from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, after which she worked for several years training cetaceans at Seaworld of Florida. Of her 3+ years at Sea World (1987-1990), she spent approximately 2½ years working at Shamu Stadium with orcas, and six months at the multi-species Whale and Dolphin stadium. Carol, along with Samantha Berg, was one of the “next friends” plaintiffs in PETA’s 2011 13th amendment filing in California on behalf of the five remaining live-caught orcas still being held in captivity at Seaworld parks. She serves on the expert board for the Free Morgan Foundation, and is a co-sponsor of proposed CA state bill AB 2140 which seeks to end captive orca performances and captive breeding. An outspoken freedom advocate, she has been a featured presenter at orca related events in the Pacific Northwest. As a lover of marine life and an extensive traveler, she cherishes the opportunities she has had to experience whales and dolphins in their natural environment, around the world. Carol earned a M.A. degree in Communicative Disorders from the University of Central Florida & is currently the owner/director of three busy pediatric speech therapy clinics in the Seattle area.

John Jett
John Jett worked as an orca trainer at Sea World of Florida from 1992-1996 and worked closely with Tilikum, the animal that has now killed three people, including trainer Dawn Brancheau. He has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Environmental Science and Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance with an emphasis on waterway management and marine mammal conservation issues. Dr. Jett is currently a Research Professor in Environmental Science at Stetson University in Florida.

Jeffrey Ventre
Jeffrey Ventre is a board certified medical doctor who specializes in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He is also a board certified doctor of chiropractic. He practices in Central Washington State, treating patients with disabilities ranging from spinal cord injuries to back pain. He worked as a marine mammal trainer at SeaWorld from 1987–.1995, spending seven of eight years with cetaceans. Although he is now an opponent of captivity, his favorite “blackfish” at SeaWorld were Taima and Katina whom he performed with regularly in 1994 and 1995. In June of 1996 he participated in “Orca Survey” with Ken Balcomb and Dr. Astrid van Ginneken, an ongoing photo-identification study of the Southern Resident community of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest. Seeing free-ranging killer whales radically altered his perspective. In 2011 he co-authored a paper with John Jett, PhD that describes the health issues and decreased lifespans of captive orcas. He’s since teamed up with Dr. Jett on two additional peer-reviewed scientific papers as well as an upcoming book chapter regarding animals in entertainment. He was subpoenaed in 2011 as a witness for the federal government in the case of OSHA vs SeaWorld. He can be reached on Twitter @jeffrey_ventre

Phil Demers
Philip Demers (aka “The Walrus Whisperer”) was a professional marine mammal trainer at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario. He is best known for his unique relationship with a captive walrus named Smooshi. Demers’ animal training career began in 2000 at Marineland of Canada where he was employed until August 2012. In 2007, Demers became the focus of mass media attention regarding his unique relationship with a captive Pacific walrus named Smooshi. Their relationship garnered the attention of such television programs as CBC’s The National, Inside Edition, and Jimmy Kimmel Live!. Demers left his position at Marineland citing allegations of negligent treatment of the animals and unhealthy conditions. Demers is a Huffington Post contributor and has appeared on such shows as the Joe Rogan Experience and Abby Martin’s “Breaking The Set.”

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