Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish
by John Hargrove
Nikki’s Rating: 8 out of 10
Summary: Wanting nothing more than to work with orcas, John Hargrove realized his childhood dream and became a killer whale trainer at SeaWorld. But after 14 years of working at SeaWorld of California, SeaWorld of Texas, and MarineLand in the south of France, Hargrove walked away and gave up his dream. In this heartbreaking and honest memoir, Hargrove spills the secrets of SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium and the atrocities the corporation allows for the sake of profit.
8 Benevolent Things about John Hargrove’s Beneath the Surface
(May Contain Spoilers)
Beneath the Surface was full of fun facts that were interesting, such as orcas are matriarchal and pods are centered around a dominant female. And while Hargrove pulled from his own experience and observations from working with orcas, he also offers insights from researchers and experts who study the lives of orcas living free in the wild.
One of the strongest points that Hargrove makes clear is that the orcas of SeaWorld are prisoners. No matter what improvements and changes the corporation makes to their living conditions or treatments, these animals are captives. And this imprisonment is not done for their protection or for their health, they are captive solely for profit.
The most heartbreaking thing about Beneath the Surface is reading how the orcas behave in captivity. Pulling the paint off their pool from sheer boredom, crying and wailing after being separated from their calves, repeatedly raking each other, which is not normal behavior in adult wild orcas. To animal deserves to live in captivity.
While Hargrove makes it known that he does not agree or condone with the policies and practices of SeaWorld, he remains extremely respectful towards the employees who work for SeaWorld. As someone who lived through the struggle of wanting to help the whales and yet knowing that SeaWorld was exploiting the animals, Hargrove understands the compartmentalizing employees must do and he respects that these other trainers and employees have a different journey than he does. He does not villainize them or imply that they are making the wrong choice.
SeaWorld was exposed in the documentary Blackfish but Hargrove is able to shed more light. As a former employee, Hargrove is able to give examples of events that occurred at SeaWorld that the higher ups ignored or spun in ways that made humans look at fault. Never has SeaWorld come forward admitting that the orcas are dangerous, as they are prisoners held in tight quarters. Rather, they point the finger at the trainers, “She allowed her hair to touch the water and the killer whale thought it was a new toy.” “He panicked and drowned.” “The trainer missed his mark, didn’t give the right signal” etc. Hargrove is able to give testimony that SeaWorld is concerned about one thing: money. No amount of concerns from trainers, experts, or advocates have made them change having the killer whales for entertainment.
Although Beneath the Surface focuses on the horrors done to captive orcas, Hargrove does an amazing job of conveying the beauty and majesty of killer whales. The communal bonds they share, the attachment and dedication orca mothers have to their offspring, no matter how old they are, and the relationships they can create with humans. Hargrove truly shows how complex, emotional, and intelligent killer whales are and that these beings deserve our respect, love and awe.
7. Necessary Evil
Sadly, there are still quite a few orcas in captivity and Hargrove explains that SeaWorld may be a necessary evil at this time. Hargrove is realistic and realizes that these captive orcas behave so unnaturally, with some of them being unnatural hybrids, that they would have no chance of survival free in the wild. Hargrove’s proposed solution is for the orca breeding program to be ended and that capturing any dolphins or whales be illegal world wide. And then finally, providing the already captive orcas with a more humane cage where they can live the remainder of their lives not performing or in isolation.
Now that he has left the life as a killer whale trainer, John Hargrove is now an advocate for them. He maintains his deep love and respect for these animals and now serves them in a different manner. As with this book, Hargrove is attempting to put an end to whale captivity and educate the public and lawmakers through speeches and interviews. He had a choice to step away from SeaWorld, keep his mouth shut, and move on to a new chapter in his life. Instead he chose to stick up for the whales and take on SeaWorld.