Beneath the surface: A useful book about animals in captivity

Beneath the surface: A useful book about animals in captivity

John Hargrove, who is a previous Senior Killer-Whale trainer at SeaWorld, wrote the book Beneath the Surface, which was published in 2015. After 14 years in the job, he decided to quit in 2012.  But why did he make that big change?



It is hard to forget John Hargrove when it deals with marine mammals in captivity. Indeed, he worked for years for Seaworld and its different facilities:

  • As an apprentice trainer at SeaWorld Texas (1993-1995).
  • As a Senior trainer at SeaWorld California in Shamu Stadium (1995-2001).
  • He resigned in 2001 to be hired as a Supervisor by Marineland d’Antibes. In France, he conditioned and performed in-water interactions with orcas that had never been in the water with trainers before (2001-2002).
  • After a break from the industry, he came back at SeaWorld California in 2008 where he worked as a Senior trainer until resigning in 2012.

His book tells us a unique experience in this sector, through the eyes of a passionate trainer and his awareness coming with time. He definitely changed his mind about his job after another accident at Seaworld. During an audience with the OHSA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), Seaworld made a disturbing testimony affirming that “the company did not know that the trainers had a dangerous work”. John thought that Seaworld would actually protect them, which was not the case and he decided to quit the group right after.


Picture from the documentary Blackfish. 

This book has a huge success in the USA. John Hargrove is a recurrent guest on different talk shows where he explains his previous job and the reasons for which marine mammals should not be held in captivity. Obviously, SeaWorld has already reacted to that and tried to discredit him, showing videos of John insulting other people for example (which is clearly not a good thing but does not imply that he is lying about its 12 years of work at SeaWorld!).

Indeed, who would be better than an orca trainer to tell us about these marine mammals in captivity?


Picture from  the book.

I was very touched  by the reading (be careful if you are emotive too 😉 ) as John Hargrove knows how to transmit his passion for orcas to us showing us their daily life as we would haver never known it otherwise. For the first time ever, we are able to  spend some time behind the stage, observing their life between shows (deaths, reproductive sessions, illness, accidents, etc…)  and it is absolutely fascinating and overwhelming.


Picture from the book.

I had a very bad point of view about orca trainers until then, as I was unable to understand how they could possibly love them and letting them suffer at the same time. After reading the book, and without giving them any excuse, I started to understand a bit more the passion and blindness that lead them doing this job. John explained several times that he tried to help orcas while working there, but, obviously, it was difficult to face this huge commercial company alone.

Now, and thanks to John’s testimony, more and more orca trainers are starting to question their work. Would that be sufficient to end this career? Only the future will tell us.

To conclude, I would say that I truly think this is a good book to introduce yourself to the world of marine mammals in captivity, and I do hope that more and more people will take the necessary time to read it, so they would understand what is really happening in these marine parks and it should give them the right reasons for never visiting them again.

If you have read the book, what did you think about it?

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