A former SeaWorld killer whale trainer dispenses serious allegations against the company and the industry at large.
In Hargrove’s unnerving opening sequence, he writes of being antagonistically nudged into the center of a performance pool by an aggressive, 6,000-pound orca. It is with this same unique amalgam of “dread and wonderment” that Hargrove characterizes both his longtime, high-ranking professional relationship with orca whales and his astonishment at how broken the performance animal arena has become—particularly at SeaWorld. He writes of a lifelong affinity for whales, an adoration that began as a boy on his annual trips to SeaWorld in Orlando and continued with an apprenticeship in Texas and, ultimately, years spent as a senior instructor at SeaWorld San Antonio and in France. Though his appreciation for and understanding of the species are abundantly clear, the author addresses the inherent dangers these oversized mammals can pose to even seasoned instructors while calling out SeaWorld’s misdeeds and cruel methods employed to obtain, control and artificially breed their stable of whales. The public performances can be treacherous, he writes, and leave little margin for error since the whales, while fully trained, can still exhibit aggressive behavior and attack without warning, as chronicled in the lethal assault and corporate obfuscation case seen in the independent documentary Blackfish (2013). Hargrove divulges some of the lesser-known, more insidious facts about marine parks: the ways whales are artificially impregnated, how boredom can become their undoing, and that these virtual “prisoners in the park” are subjected to secretive food-deprivation tactics to ensure that they understand “that it is best to cooperate.” Hargrove believes the basis of SeaWorld’s bottom-line corporate strategy was to treat the whales as a “company asset on the ledgers” and “a matter for spreadsheets.” The author left the industry in 2012 after an “intellectual conversion” in which he realized the lives of trained whales were a living hell.
A shocking, aggressively written marine park exposé.