Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
June 18, 2024 ·  3 min read

Footage Shows Tragic Death of SeaWorld Trainer After Being Savagely Killed By Whale

Alexis Martinez was a Spanish animal trainer who worked with orcas at Loro Parque’s Orca Ocean in the Canary Islands. He was killed during a Christmas show rehearsal on December 24, 2009, two months before the death of Dawn Brancheau, perhaps the most famous victim of an orca attack in SeaWorld. Although the park initially called Martinez’s death an accident, the autopsy report stated he died due to fatal injuries from the attack. To make matters worse, two years prior, the park claimed another orca attack was simply an accident.

Alexis Martinez and Keto

Orca Ocean trainer Alexis Martínez with Keto
Photo: Outside. Orca Ocean trainer Alexis Martínez with Keto

Alexis Martinez, 29, had worked with orcas for three years at Loro Parque. His partner Estefanía Luis Rodriguez, described the animal lover as “handsome, generous, and funny“. She revealed that Martinez had expressed concerns over his work at Orca Ocean. Just weeks before his death, he was saying the killer whales were becoming disobedient, disruptive, and aggressive. Initially, the park called his death an unfortunate accident and stated his body showed no sign of violence until the autopsy report included ripped organs, a crushed chest, and bite marks. 

Keto, a 6,600lb male, had never seen the ocean, being born in captivity in 1995 in a SeaWorld park. He’s performed in parks in Ohio, Texas, San Diego, and the Canary Islands. It was during his third year at Loro Parque’s Orca Ocean that the incident took place. Keto was one of four orcas sent from SeaWorld on loan to Loro Parque. 

Read More: 30 Smartest Animals in the World

The Fateful Training Session

Estefanía Rodriguez and Alexis Martínez.
Photo: Outside

Because of his experience, Martinez played a big role in training the animals for the upcoming Christmas show. One of the tricks involved a stand-on spy hop where the trainer balanced on the killer whale as he rose out of the water. However, the trick didn’t go as planned, since Martinez fell into the water when Keto leaned to one side. As per training, Martinez gave him a neutral response and no reward. Soon after, the orca earned fish as a reward after working with another trainer. 

Returning to work with Keto, Martinez tried a move where he rode the orca into the pool before sliding up onto the stage. However, Keto dove too deeply, forcing Martinez to swim back on his own. However, it seemed like the orca was blocking his trainer’s path to the stage.

Martínez’s Final Moments

Alexis Martínez and Dawn Brancheau at Loro Parque, September 2006. 
Photo: Estefanía Luis Rodriguez

Martinez was instructed to swim slowly to another pool while a colleague distracted Keto. However, Keto went straight for Martinez, slamming into him, forcing him underwater, and violently toying with his body. Eventually, other trainers managed to call Keto into a different pool so they could retrieve Martinez, who had suffered fatal injuries. Tragically, his death predated Dawn Brancheau’s fatal attack in SeaWorld by only a few months.

The Prior Orca Attack at Loro Parque

The main show pool at Loro Parque's Orca Ocean. 
Photo: Outside

On 2007, 29-year-old German orca trainer Claudia Vollhardt was hospitalized after an attack from Tekoa the killer whale. Vollhardt was working at Loro Parque’s Orca Ocean, rehearsing a trick with Tekoa where the orca pushed her feet with its snout as they swam together. Instead, Tekoa slammed into the woman from beneath, grabbed her arm in its mouth, and pulled her underwater several times before freeing her. At the time, the Loro Parque spokeswoman called the incident an accident because “the whale did not bite her. If it had, she would have lost her arm.” 

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The End of SeaWorld?

Tilikum, the orca who killed Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando. (Courtesy SeaWorld)
Photo: Outside

Ever since the release of the documentary Blackfish in 2013, marine parks have been under intense public scrutiny. Orcas in captivity have higher mortality rates compared to their wild counterparts. They are separated from their families and they would otherwise stay together for life. And they are confined to a tank instead of migrating over great distances in the ocean. The Whale Sanctuary Project is an organization working to create large seaside sanctuaries for rescued cetaceans like Keto who can experience this freedom for the first time while still receiving human care.

Read More: Cannibals Feared to Live In US National Park Where Five People Have Gone Missing


  1. “Blood in the Water.” Outside. Tim Zimmermann. July 15, 2011
  2. Woman survives killer whale ordeal.The Sydney Morning Herald. October 9, 207
  3. “Orcas don’t do well in captivity. Here’s why.National Geographic. Natasha Daly. March 25, 2019
  4. “Horrific final moments of SeaWorld trainer as killer whale ‘tore organs’.Mirror. Jackie Annett. May 27, 2024