source: free review copy via NetGalley
title: Beneath the Surface
author: John Hargrove
published: Palgrave Macmillan Trade (March 24, 2015)
rated: An incredible eye opener
5 out of 5
Over the course of two decades, John Hargrove worked with 20 different whales on two continents and at two of SeaWorld’s U.S. facilities. For Hargrove, becoming an orca trainer fulfilled a childhood dream. However, as his experience with the whales deepened, Hargrove came to doubt that their needs could ever be met in captivity. When two fellow trainers were killed by orcas in marine parks, Hargrove decided that SeaWorld’s wildly popular programs were both detrimental to the whales and ultimately unsafe for trainers. After leaving SeaWorld, Hargrove became one of the stars of the controversial documentary Blackfish. The outcry over the treatment of SeaWorld’s orca has now expanded beyond the outlines sketched by the award-winning documentary, with Hargrove contributing his expertise to an advocacy movement that is convincing both federal and state governments to act. In Beneath the Surface, Hargrove paints a compelling portrait of these highly intelligent and social creatures, including his favorite whales Takara and her mother Kasatka, two of the most dominant orcas in SeaWorld. And he includes vibrant descriptions of the lives of orcas in the wild, contrasting their freedom in the ocean with their lives in SeaWorld. Hargrove’s journey is one that humanity has just begun to take—toward the realization that the relationship between the human and animal worlds must be radically rethought.
Captivity is always captivity. No matter how gentle the jailer.
p.19, Beneath the Surface by John Hargrove
After having watched the eye-opening documentary Blackfish in 2013, I was appalled and saddened to learn of the conditions of the whales in captivity at SeaWorld and in other marine theme parks.
Until viewing Blackfish it never occurred to me to wonder where the orcas at SeaWorld came from. Now that I know where they come from and how these incredibly intelligent creatures suffer in captivity, I will never visit another marine park that has these animals on display, this goes for dolphins as well.
The documentary Blackfish has interviews with former SeaWorld orca trainers, which is really what makes you stop and listen because you are hearing it directly from people who experienced it first hand. One such former trainer is John Hargrove and he went on to write this book, Beneath the Surface. I have to give it up to him because speaking out against an empire as powerful as SeaWorld cannot be an easy feat. His writing this book is a testament to how much he cares for these creatures.
Hargrove presents us with a first hand account of what it was like for him to finally reach his dream of becoming an orca trainer and how that dream turned him into an advocate for these amazing creatures who are at the mercy of human beings.
My life and career have evolved through four stages as the job I wanted more than anything else became a kind of grieving for a shattered dream.
p 248, Beneath the Surface by John Hargrove
During his career at SeaWorld John came to form personal bonds with the whales, he had an instinct for knowing if one was having a bad day, if one would listen to instruction and this instinct helped save him from danger a few times over. I cannot possibly wrap my mind around how these trainers got into the water with these huge animals who are apex predators of the ocean.
As I read I was appalled at these marine parks but I was also in awe of John and his accounts of working with these magnificent creatures. His love for them shows through as does the pain he feels in having to leave them behind, especially his beloved Takara, his favorite orca. John also goes into the friendships he formed with his fellow employees and into the deaths of other orca trainers. He speaks out against SeaWorld and provides the facts and different arguments to back it up.
It is obvious that these whales are highly intelligent and social creatures and should not be in captivity. Seeing these orcas held captive for decades and made to perform tricks all their lives, in the name of conservation and education, is an awful thing. These shows have no educational value whatsoever.
At the end of the book John includes photos of himself with the orcas Takara and Corky and you can see he loves them. Beneath the Surface is an emotional and informative book on an important issue that cannot be ignored.
I loved those charismatic and complex beings. I can’t quite call them animals; the whales are beings just as we are beings.
p.15, Beneath the Surface by John Hargrove
At the end of the day, even if you do not want to view the documentaries or read these types of books due to them being too sad or disturbing, you can still be an advocate, inform yourself, help spread the word and do not support these types of marine parks.
If you are interested in learning more, you can visit http://www.seaworldofhurt.com/.
Below is the trailer for the documentary Blackfish.
Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any kind of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. I am under no obligation to write a positive review. I received my free review copy of Beneath the Surface by John Hargrove via NetGalley.