SeaWorld Trainers Mistreated Killer Whales, Former Trainer Alleges In Tell-All Book

It’s hard to imagine SeaWorld trainers mistreating killer whales since they’ve had a renown reputation when it comes to caring for them. Those affiliated with the organization have been viewed as part of a global conservation effort — raising awareness about these magnificent sea creatures. In tell-all book by former SeaWorld trainer, John Hargrove, that notion is just the opposite.

Take Part reports that Hargrove was an orca trainer at SeaWorld for 14 years in California, Texas, and Marineland in Atibes, France. He co-authored a book with Howard Chua-Eoan called Beneath the Surface. The book gives detailed account of the physical and emotional turmoil suffered by killer whales and some of the trainers. Many of the instances are sad.

Hargrove’s career is chronicled from a young apprentice to high-level orca trainer at SeaWorld. He resigned from the training position within the company and became a major figure in a documentary called Blackfish; the documentary was very much anti-SeaWorld.

The veteran trainer shares in his book how SeaWorld trainers mistreated the whales. He writes that orca calves were yanked from their mothers’ sides, were deprived of food to achieve desired behaviors, and broken teeth were drilled hollow and hosed with water. Hargrove adds that whales would fight each other, that, at times, ended in death.

John Hargrove says SeaWorld doesn’t care one bit for the animals.

“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.”

Hargrove stayed with the park because he says he was a pure loyalist and would’ve done anything for SeaWorld when he was less-informed.

“… 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.”

Hargrove describes SeaWorld as having a “cult” environment. It was alluded to that anyone leaving the park would face fear and guilt. He said that kept people around longer than they really wanted. He said “vicious attacks” are thrown at those who dared to go a different direction.

Trainers were ordered to call tanks “pools” and captivity “human care,” according to the former trainer and author. He corrects the organization for telling visitors that 23 percent of wild orcas have collapsed dorsal fins when it’s actually one percent.

The death of two trainers hit Hargrove hard. It was a turning point for him after Alexis Martinez was killed by an orca in the Canary Islands in December, 2009, and friend, Dawn Brancheau, was killed a few months after that. After those catastrophes, Hargrove left in August, 2012. He was threatened with lawsuits by SeaWorld over his book and SeaWorld trainers sent him hate mail when he testified for a bill to ban orca captivity in California. A few trainers silently supported Hargrover, however.

Hargrove says once again that SeaWorld is “cultish” and “controlling.”

“SeaWorld would love to control everyone’s mind, which again is very cultish, but several trainers secretly cheer me on. They have to keep it secret. People are afraid to whisper my name because of the retribution.”

For young people who’re considering a career in orca-training, Hargrove wants them to visit Death at SeaWorld, read his new book, and watch Blackfish. He strongly advises people not to join a legion of SeaWorld trainers who allegedly mistreated killer whales.

[Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images]