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Former SeaWorld Trainer Condemns Orca Captivity

An Orca performs at a SeaWorld location in 2008.
Flickr Photo/Jeff Kraus (CC-BY-NC-ND)
An Orca performs at a SeaWorld location in 2008.

John Hargrove was an orca trainer for 14 years, mainly at SeaWorld. Shortly after quitting the company he gained attention for his part in the documentary "Blackfish." The film chronicles conditions at SeaWorld theme parks and the death of Dawn Brancheau, a SeaWorld trainer killed by an orca in 2010.

Hargrove’s new memoir is "Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond 'Blackfish.'" In it he tells the story of fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming an orca trainer and later realizing the dream was based on a deeply flawed illusion.

Hargrove and others argue that the captivity of orcas is unsafe and unhealthy for whales and trainers alike. They say for whales the stress of life in cramped pools and separation from social groups leads to disease, mental and physical harm and curtailed lifespans.

Since the release of "Blackfish," the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has banned SeaWorld from permitting its personnel to enter tanks to train and perform with orcas. Attendance and earnings are down at SeaWorld’s 11 theme parks. In response, the company has launched a campaign to address negative public perceptions. In it they contend orcas in captivity are thriving and enjoy a similar lifespan to that of whales in the wild.

Hargrove spoke at Town Hall Seattle on March 30. Town Hall and University Book Store sponsored the event, as part of The Seattle Science Lectures. Thanks to Jennie Cecil Moore for this recording.

Year started with KUOW: 2006