ORCA trainer Alexis Martinez was already fearing for his safety when he stepped into a pool with the 6,600-pound Keto killer whale.
He had confided to his girlfriend that “something could happen at any moment” – and his fears were realized on Christmas Eve 2004.
Martinez was an experienced trainer, having worked with 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 show he was working on, Orca Ocean.
He had told his girlfriend that the killer whales were becoming disobedient, disruptive and aggressive.
And he was right – because a few weeks later Alexis was horribly killed by an orca during a training session.
His life came to a horrific end following a brutal Keto attack – which has been described as an “unfortunate accident”.
Despite his skills, years of experience, and intuition when dealing with huge creatures, he was no match for the beast.
The grim autopsy report revealed his organs had been torn open and his chest crushed before the orca ‘played’ with his body in the tank.
Alexis began his career in 2004 when he landed 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 which were quickly propelled into a performance training regimen.
Accomplished trainer Alexis was instrumental in leading the sea mammals during rehearsals for an upcoming festive show.
He was caring for a 6,600-pound man, named Keto, who had been airlifted from the United States after being born in captivity – having never known life on the open sea.
During a morning session on Dec. 24, according to a corporate incident report, Keto “appeared in high spirits.”
Alexis joined the orca in the pool as another trainer, Brian Rokeach, positioned himself on the stage, while several other staff members pondered.
The 29-year-old allegedly attempted to perform a standing spy jump, where he balances on the killer whale rostrum as he stands up and comes out of the water.
But he took a fall as Keto leaned to one side, before trying the stunt again – when he fell into the water again.
The trainer responded with a reinforcement scenario, giving a neutral reaction and withholding the reward, according to the report.
The 14-year-old killer whale was later rewarded with two handfuls of fish after obeying the orders of another trainer.
A hopeful Alexis then opted to attempt a descent to the stage exit – meaning he would mount the orca in the pool and onto the stage.
However, Keto had dived too deep into the 12-meter pool – forcing his trainer to abandon the move into the depths of the water.
After the pair surfaced, the killer whale “appeared to position itself between Alexis and the scene.”
The 29-year-old then waited for the animal to calm down and requested a stage call via an underwater tone.
The animal in question moved towards him and struck him and violently played with his body.
His colleague Brian suggested that Keto didn’t seem “determined to stay 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 target.
Yet, as Ket noticed his mentor moving, the three-tonne orc rushed towards him – ignoring Brian.
The killer whale then rushed towards Alexis, forcing him underwater with its huge beak for several minutes.
Orca Ocean assistant supervisor Rafael Sanchez, in testimony to investigators, said: “The animal in question walked towards him, punched him and violently played with his body.”
Frantic coaches desperately tried to call Keto to the surface, signaling him by hitting the water and hitting a bucket.
After about 30 seconds, the killer whale finally obeyed and threw Alexis’ lifeless body to the bottom of the pool.
But the ordeal wasn’t over yet – for Keto took a quick breath and returned to inspect his victim, before dragging it back to the surface with his beak.
Other Loro Parque employees eventually managed to steer the gigantic killer whale to another pool, before recovering the body of its trainer.
The 29-year-old had blood pouring from his nose and mouth as his colleagues desperately tried to revive him.
An autopsy report later revealed Keto rammed Alexis with such force that her chest collapsed.
He 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 water works at all of its parks after his death, as did Loro Parque.
But Alexis’ employers initially dismissed the death as an “accident”, insisting his beaten body showed no signs of violence.
They claimed he “was knocked down by the killer whale in an unexpected animal reaction” as Keto “changed his position”.
Keto had actually caused catastrophic internal bleeding.
In a cruel twist of fate, it later emerged that Alexis had documented her concerns about orcas in her diary.
He wrote how Keto displayed “controlling” behavior with the three killer whales – Tekoa, a male, and the females, Kohana and Skyla – with whom he arrived from SeaWorld.
Further investigations later revealed that the Killer Orca rammed into Tekeoa on one occasion, leaving him bleeding.
In another, Keto had removed a piece of Kohana’s dorsal fin.
Alexis told his girlfriend he was exhausted from the stress of working with the orcas and the pressure of the upcoming Christmas show, journalist Tim Zimmermann reported.
“My job is particularly risky and I really need to be well rested and ready,” Alexis told his girlfriend Estefanía.
“With everything going on, something could happen at any moment.”
Alexis’ family say they feel they were ‘lied to’ about his death – Estefanía claiming she was first told he was ‘fine’ when contacted by the park, even though she knew he was already dead.
The park, however, defended its handling of his death and insisted that incorrect information shared can “correctly be attributed to the nature of an emergency response”.
Just two months after her horrific death, dedicated killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau was dragged through the water by an orca during a post-show routine.
Dawn and Alexis have known each other since her time at Loro Parque.
She leaned over the edge of the tank to scrub Tilikum when his demeanor suddenly changed and he pulled her into the water by her ponytail.
Heartbreaking scenes saw Dawn shaken and shaken as terrified guests were frantically ushered in by staff.
Reports say the 40-year-old was scalped and had her arm bitten in the attack.
Dawn’s shocking death has made headlines around the world, challenging the ethics of keeping whales in captivity – with much speculation centering on Tilikum’s treatment and life.
Many pundits and former coaches believe Tilikum only became a serial killer as a result of his traumatic time in captivity, with the seminal 2013 documentary Blackfish highlighting long-standing 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 after years of activists opposing them.