John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld orca trainer, is adding fuel to the fire of SeaWorld’s (mis)treatment of animals with the publication of his new book, Beneath the Surface.
Hargrove, who is in his early forties, wanted to be a whale trainer since first seeing a Shamu show at SeaWorld Orlando in his childhood. He grew up obsessed with the beautiful relationships between the massive animals and their trainers and began working with SeaWorld at age 20. Hargrove’s résumé includes 14 collective years between various SeaWorld locations as well as Marineland in France. Before finally resigning in 2012, he was the Senior 1 trainer at Shamu stadium in SeaWorld San Antonio.
Since leaving the line of work, Hargrove has opened up about the shocking practices observed in the industry. In 2013, he appeared in the critically-acclaimed documentary Blackfish, which heavily features the orca Tilikum, a SeaWorld killer whale that was involved in the deaths of three people, including the highly-publicized case of Dawn Brancheau who was drowned during a live show in 2010.
— Blackfish (@blackfishmovie) March 23, 2015
Hargrove now joins in the rank of former trainers and SeaWorld employees who criticize how animals and workers are treated at the parks, as well as whether or not orcas should be kept in captivity at all. His new book, Beneath the Surface, tackles some of the biggest topics within the industry: calves being taken from their mothers, aggression in the animals based on their treatment and confinement, and the physical and emotional tolls on trainers and other staff.
In his book, Hargrove likens SeaWorld to a cult, saying that once you’re in they make it very difficult to get out. When he first started out, he said, “I was a 100 percent loyalist. I would’ve done anything for that company. For many years, I took what they said as gospel, and I stayed because I loved those whales and wanted a better life for them.”
So why the change of heart?
— SeaWorld (@SeaWorld) March 23, 2015
The trainer said that, following the deaths of several trainers, SeaWorld attested that they had no knowledge that being a trainer was a dangerous job; they also blamed the trainers for their own deaths. The numerous injuries that Hargrove sustained during his time at SeaWorld resulted in bouts of hospitalization as well as an addiction to painkillers. His primary concern, however, was the whales:
“As I became higher-ranked, I saw the devastating effects of captivity on these whales and it just really became a moral and ethical issue [….] SeaWorld has no soul. They don’t give a damn about those animals; they’re a commodity worth lots of money, and they have to protect their investment.”
SeaWorld support and ticket sales have plummeted over the past few years, due largely in part to Blackfish, deaths, and other former employees coming out about the abuse they sustained or witnessed at the park. Needless to say, Hargrove’s book is sure to make a splash in the ongoing debate over orca captivity.
SeaWorld is under fire again as a former killer whale trainer reveals that the park abused the animals and mistreated employees.