Book Review: Beneath The Surface by John Hargrove

One-Sentence Synopsis: 

John Hargrove was an orca trainer for 14 years, where he transitioned from die-hard SeaWorld employee to an advocate questioning every aspect of orcas in captivity, and this is his true-life story.



The Good:

John truly spoke only from his experience.  He gave the facts based on his observations and his knowledge while an orca trainer, including coverage of the SeaWorld artificial insemination program, calfs forcibly removed from mothers, withholding food, small pools, and improper foresight into orca's social structure.  His love for the orcas shines through the entire book, where he details the relationships he built with them.  It's inspiring to hear how intelligent and social these whales are.  There's a dark side of captive orcas, though, which I thank John for sharing with the world.  Everyone needs to hear it.

The Bad: 

There were a few typographical errors, but other than that, I really have nothing to say negative about this book.

I also came to another realization as I trained the stars of SeaWorld. The whales were motivated to perform in shows for two reasons: it gave them more opportunities to be rewarded with food and it provided them with a temporary escape from their horrifically sterile lives in captivity. They were bored.
— John Hargrove
My experience in France with orcas unaccustomed to humans in the water only reinforces my belief that while the relationship between trainer and whale can be beautiful, the overall situation - that of captivity - makes the orcas dysfunctional and dangerous.
— John Hargrove
SeaWorld spins its stories this way to minimize the damage to corporation and to manage the commercial image of the orca. While acknowledging that the killer whale can be dangerous, SeaWorld keeps the risk within the realm of public acceptability. It would not be advisable - from a business point of view - to admit that a combination of behavioral strictures and cramped quarters have deformed the natural character of the orcas and made them riskier for trainers to deal with.
— John Hargrove
How do you explain that to the public? ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Ky (male orca) was terrified by a female whale because in SeaWorld we keep our whales so enclosed that they cannot swim away to protect themselves from other whales who might hurt them with their teeth.’
— John Hargrove

What I learned: 

I'm not sure how to properly put into words how much John's story moved me.  Before I saw the Blackfish documentary and read Beneath the Surface, I had little knowledge of orca behavior, social structure and intelligence.  I also had little knowledge of the orca's conditions at SeaWorld.  I was aware that they put on a "circus-like" show, because I had visited SeaWorld as a child once or twice.  Now that I have been exposed to the behind-the-scenes truth, there is no going back, emotionally or physically.  

Why should you care?

Once you read this book, the glamourous veil will be lifted.  You will see the exploitation of both the orcas and the trainers. It may move you in ways you didn't know existed.

I don’t really see myself as the man with the megaphone, though I’m glad there are people who do that. I see myself as speaking on behalf of those who have no voice themselves, who cannot speak for themselves: the whales. The perfect word is ‘advocate.’ There is still a lot of work to be done to change laws and win hearts and minds.
— John Hargrove