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Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish

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*Now a New York Times Best Seller*

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.

264 pages, Hardcover

First published March 1, 2015

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About the author

John Hargrove

4 books85 followers
JOHN HARGROVE has 14 years' experience as a killer whale trainer. His experience spans both SeaWorld of California and SeaWorld of Texas where he was promoted to the highest ranking Senior Trainer. John also has an international reputation, having been a Supervisor with MarineLand in the south of France. He resigned his position with SeaWorld in August 2012 and currently resides in New York City.

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Profile Image for Persephone's Pomegranate.
36 reviews113 followers
January 17, 2023
I will treasure them forever. It is a sentiment that I share with almost every person who has ever reached the highest ranks of SeaWorld’s orca trainers. We swam with them. We kept them healthy. We saw them give birth. We watched them suffer. We suffered with them. We looked them in the eye and caught a glimpse into their souls. Sometimes, we saw joy. Sometimes, we saw things that were terrifying.


While I think the author John Hargrove did a great job with Beneath the Surface, I was hoping for a more detailed breakdown. The book provides an interesting look into the trials and tribulations of captive orcas. It's fast-paced and engaging. There are a few things I would like to add.

Spanish sailors called these magnificent killers 'ballena asesina' - killer of whales - after witnessing them preying on baleen whales (blue, humpback, minke, grey whales, etc.) When the word crossed to the English language, it translated as 'killer whale.' The species is also known as Orcinus Orca, which comes from the Latin word 'Orcinus' meaning 'kingdom of the dead'. I like to think of them as cute murderous sea pandas.

Orcas walk (or should I say swim) a fine uncanny line between empathy and cruelty. Transient and Offshore orcas sometimes catapult seals as high as 70 feet into the air for fun. Transients are known to harass other animals out of boredom. In the Valdés Peninsula, a group of orcas launch themselves right up onto the beach to catch sea lion pups. This complex hunting technique is passed down from older to younger generations - yet very few orcas can do it. The practice is believed to have evolved from Mel, Patagonia's iconic male orca. (Mel died in 2011 at the age of 50)

What makes orcas remarkable is not their hunting skills but their emotional intelligence. That's not me anthropomorphizing, that's a proven fact. Orcas have the most gyrified brain in the world – above humans and bottlenose dolphins. J35 'Tahlequah' carried her dead calf for weeks. If that doesn't scream GRIEF and EMPATHY I don't know what does. John Hargrove witnessed the deep emotional intelligence of orcas first-hand : Every time Splash had an epileptic seizure, Orkid, who was just about a year older, would be there to bring him back to the surface to breathe if the episode occurred at the bottom of the pool. She would lead him away from the hard walls where he could hurt himself as his seizure caused him to lose control of his body and flail against the concrete. She would sometimes put herself between Splash and the wall to keep him from injuring himself. There was no incentive for her to do this. She did it because she cared for him.

John Hargrove doesn't have a degree in marine biology. What he lacks in a degree, he more than makes up for in experience. He worked with captive orcas for over 19 years. I'll try not to hold that against him. As a rule, I am wary of people who exploit animals. I don't believe cetaceans should be in any form of captivity. Cetacean death rates are much higher in captivity than in the wild. I've never been a John Hargrove hater, but I’ve always been skeptical of him. Still, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The princess whale came to town with pomp and circumstance. She was flown in on a military C-130 aircraft. It was the only way to transport her mega-poundage plus the water in her container—a total of 35,000 pounds. I was the Texas trainer who went to pick her up at the San Antonio airport at 4:30 a.m., and, after a crane lifted her box out of the C-130, she traveled to the park in an 18-wheeler escorted in front and back by the police. Her enormous, perfectly straight black dorsal fin stuck out of the top of the truck, a surreal sight on a road in inland Texas.

After getting her to the park, we lowered her into the shallowest of the four pools—the eight-foot-deep med pool. She came over to us right away to take food, a clear sign that the trip had not upset her. It is not uncommon for whales to be so traumatized by transport that it takes days before they regain the comfort level required to eat. But because she was doing so well physically, we quickly opened the gate of the shallow pool to give Takara access to one of the two big and deeper back pools. Two male orcas, Kyuquot and Tuar, were in the pool adjacent to Tiki’s, with the gates closed to separate them from her. They were, however, aware of her presence and decided to give her a noisy and intimidating welcome, slamming themselves against the gates to Takara’s pool.

Most other whales would have been cowed by this reception. The sound and shaking that emanates from steel gates battered by 5,000-to 8,000-pound orcas is terrifying. You can feel the ground move. Two gates led to Takara’s back pool; Kyuquot was slamming one, Tuar the other.

Tiki wasted no time. She swam to each gate and slammed it right back, even harder. The clang was unbelievable and, to human witnesses, humbling. The males never slammed her gate again. To solidify her position as Queen of San Antonio, Tiki followed up on that slamming session with swiftly applied and almost Machiavellian intelligence. She sized up the social situation in the pool. Kyuquot, the largest male, had the three other whales—Unna, Tuar, and Keet—subordinate to him. Takara knew she couldn’t take on four whales. But she had a strategy. She was aware that Unna, who was usually quiet, and Keet, a male she had known at another stadium, were already effectively subordinated to her. All she had to do was remind the rambunctious male duo that their first run-in with her was not an anomaly. She chose to divide and conquer.

First, she took on Tuar. Immediately upon being let into the same pool, she raked him violently, leaving a huge gash across the top of his head. He was devastated and terrified of her. He knew who was boss and did not dare touch Tiki for fear of offending her even more. For her part, Takara paid him no mind, focusing her attention on me, like a duchess who refused to be bothered by the riffraff.

After that, she dealt with Kyuquot—or Ky, as we had nicknamed him. He was much bigger than she was—more than 8,000 pounds to her 5,000; and we had initially kept them apart because we weren’t quite sure how he’d respond to her after the gate-banging incident. But eventually, they had to come together. If she was concerned about him in any way, she did not show it. Instead, she raked him with her teeth, again and again. He did not fight back. It was painful to watch him bleeding. He swam as fast as he could to try to escape from her but he did not fight back.

You can’t prevent raking because the whales have to eventually perform and swim together—and the dominant whales will impose their will on the other whales the moment they feel the need to enforce discipline. Sometimes, raking can be so bad we have to call in the veterinarians to give antibiotics to the injured whale to prevent infection. But Ky would never question Takara’s authority. He had accepted that she was the boss. She could wound him if she wanted to. These are the kinds of rules that orcas in captivity live by.

John has worked with many famous orcas – Kasatka (the matriarch of Seaworld San Diego and the mother of Takara, Nakai, Kalia, and Makani), her daughter Takara (the matriarch of Seaworld San Antonio and the mother of Kohana, Trua, Sakari and Kamea), Orkid (nicknamed 'the Rocket Scientist' for her intelligence) and Corky (the sweetest and oldest orca in captivity). Orkid and Corky hold a very special place in my heart.


Corky is over 57 years old. She is the oldest orca in captivity. The second oldest is Lolita, also known as Tokitae and Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut, the last Southern Resident in captivity. Lolita has been at living at the Miami Seaquarium, in the smallest orca tank in the world, since 1970. She was captured in 1970 during the now-infamous Penn Cove captures. The Lummi Nation (who see Lolita as a relative and a member of their tribe) have been fighting for her freedom for decades. Corky, the last surviving full-blooded captive Northern Resident, appeared in movies such as A Whale of a Tale (1976), Orca (1977), and Tentacles (1977). She was captured on December 11th, 1962, in Pender Harbor. Corky was a member of the A5 pod and the daughter of A23 who is known as 'Stripe.' Stripe died in 2000. The pod is now led by Corky's younger sister, Ripple. Corky also has a younger brother named Fife, a niece named Midsummer, and three great-nephews.

Corky has seen many trials and tribulations. She spent her early years at Marineland of the Pacific with Orky II, a fellow Northern Resident. Corky and Orky moved to Seaworld San Diego in 1987. It was both a blessing and a curse. The tanks were bigger and the medical standards were set at higher levels than those set by Marineland. A new chapter - with a new set of problems - was beginning. Corky's new roommates were Icelandic. and they weren't going to welcome her with open arms (fins?) North Atlantic and North Pacific ecotypes differ both genetically and culturally. Most of the orcas in Seaworld's collection were North Atlantic Type 1, who treated Northern Resident Corky like an outcast. Corky became pregnant seven times, but none of her calves survived past 47 days. According to Alexandra Morton, Corky spent hours staring at the stuffed orcas in the gift shop – probably because they reminded her of her lost calves.

Corky became a surrogate mother to many orphaned orcas, including Orkid and Splash. It's impossible to talk about Corky and Orkid without mentioning Orkid's biological mother. Those who have seen the documentary Blackfish may remember the tragic and horrific death scene of Kandu V.

Kandu V was Icelandic. She arrived at Seaworld San Diego in 1977. She had her only calf, Orkid, in 1988. Orkid was the first successful birth at SeaWorld San Diego. Orkid's father was Orky II, a Northern Resident captured in Pedder Bay, British Columbia. Orkid was named after her father, who died a few days after her birth - Orky's kid aka Orkid. Just a few months later, yet another tragedy struck San Diego. Corky, who lost all her babies, showed a lot of interest in Orkid. Kandu was frustrated with Orkid's close relationship with Corky. Tensions came to a head on the afternoon of August 21st, 1989. Kandu attempted to ram Corky but instead collided with the pool wall. The impact shattered her upper jaw and severed multiple major arteries. She slowly bled to death in front of her little daughter. Traumatized Orkid was raised by Corky. They still live together at SeaWorld San Diego. Orkid is the only North Atlantic Type 1/Northern Resident hybrid in the world. She is known as the most intelligent orca in captivity. Kasatka took Kandu's place as the park's dominant female.

And you thought Game of Thrones was dramatic.

So many things have happened since the launch of John's book. The seemingly indestructible SeaWorld San Diego's matriarch, 40-year-old Kasatka, died from a respiratory disease in 2017. Kasatka's life began in the icy waters of Iceland. Her life ended on a warm August evening in San Diego, thousands of miles from her homeland. Her legacy lives on through her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Her younger daughter Kalia took over as Seaworld San Diego's new matriarch. She lives with her two half-brothers Nakai (son of Tilikum and Kasatka) and Makani (son of Kshamenk and Kasatka), father Keet (born to Kalina and Kotar), Ulises (the last living wild-caught male orca in the United States), Corky, Orkid, Shouka (born at Marineland Antibes) and Ikaika (son of Tilikum and Katina). Kasatka's grandson Trua, son of her beloved daughter Takara, and Taku, lives at Seaworld Orlando with his uncle Makaio (son of Tilikum and Katina), half-sister Nalani (daughter of Taku and Katina), aunt Malia (daughter of Tilikum and Taima) and matriarch Katina. Those who visit him say he is eerily reminiscent of his late grandfather Tilikum. Kasatka's granddaughter Kohana, daughter of Takara and Tilikum, lives at Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain, with her 'estranged' son Adán, half-brother Tekoa (son of Tilikum and Taima), the infamous Keto (son of Kalina and Kotar) and Morgan. I will write about this dysfunctional pod of young orcas in my next review.

As for the temperamental Takara, Kasatka's first offspring, she lives at Seaworld San Antonio with her two daughters – Sakari (with Tilikum) and Kamea (with Kshamenk), Kyuquot (son of Tilikum and Haida) and Tuar (son of Tilikum and Kalina). The young matriarch rules her small watery kingdom on her own, with an iron fin and a sharp mind.

Kasatka never got over the separation from her first offspring. Three years after they were separated, trainers recorded Takara’s vocalizations in Florida and played them back in California for Kasatka. The sound of Takara, however, caused immediate consternation in the older whale, who became extremely agitated, swimming rapidly around the pool and emitting vocalizations that were tight and fast, with rapid breaths.

Long before all trainers were forbidden to do waterwork with SeaWorld’s orcas, Kasatka was put off limits, beginning in November 2006. She had become too dangerous for trainers to swim with.

Whales do remember. Are they able to forgive?

Book recommendations - Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas by Eva Saulitis, Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us by Alexandra Morton, Endangered Orcas: The Story of the Southern Residents by Monika Wieland Shields, Orca: The Whale Called Killer by Erich Hoyt, Swimming with Orca: My Life with New Zealand's Killer Whales by Ingrid Wisser, The Lost Whale : The True Story of an Orca Named Luna by Michael Parfit, Puget Sound Whales for Sale : The Fight to End Orca Hunting by Sandra Pollard and The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks by Susan Casey.
Profile Image for Julia's Book Haven.
689 reviews178 followers
September 21, 2017
I've thought a lot about my response to this book, mostly it was sadness and hatred. This is a topic that I feel very strongly about. I'm not a big fan of zoo's or aquariums, but I hate Sea World. If for some reason you think its okay that we are keeping these beautiful, extremely intelligent animals in what to them is basically a jail cell, then read this book. Hell just do some basic research and you'll see that it isn't right. Now obviously and sadly the 30 or so whales currently in captivity won't ever be able to return to their natural home but the author John Hargrove gives a good solution in this book. A solution good for the whales, but also good for the trainers, who I do believe truly love these animals, they're just stuck between a rock and a hard place.

"You can be a prisoner and genuinely like a specific prison guard-and that prison guard may genuinely like you-but that doesn't take away the fact that you're in prison."

Hargrove suggests we move them to ocean pens, they'd finally be in the ocean but they would still have the protection of the trainers to take care of them. And we should most definitely stop the breeding program. It would make me very happy if there was never another whale born in captivity. And because I know the only thing Sea World truly cares about is their bottom line, they could still make money by letting people observe the whales and having the trainer educate them, not with stupid tricks but with actual facts. Unfortunately I don't have much hope of this ever happening, because like Hargrove said in his book, if they have to admit to one thing, they have to admit to it all. More then 50 years of wrong doing isn't something a company is going to cop-too out of the goodness of their hearts. So its up to us as consumers to make a difference, and spread the word. Please don't support Sea World in any way. Maybe once their stock prices drop enough they'll realize that we won't accept their morally disgusting treatment of their whales, and all of their other animals anymore.


*Edited May 29 2015*
I would just like to share that Ontario (where I live) has just passed a bill that bans the buying/selling of Killer Whales and also the BREEDING of Killer Whales. There will never be another whale held in captivity in Ontario after the ones we have pass away. I am so damn proud right now I am literally crying. Please, please, other provinces and states, take notes and try to create similar bills. These animals are not meant to be kept in tanks!!

*Edited Sept 21 2017*
Just wanted to let my fellow Canadians know that there is a bill, Bill S-203, currently stalled in parliament that would ban the captivity and breeding of whales, dolphins, and porpoises ALL across Canada. It's been stuck in parliament for a while now, which baffles me since this seems like a no brainer to me, but I'd just like to encourage any Canadians who read this review to contact your representatives and make it clear to them that they should support this bill. These animals should not be in captivity!
Profile Image for Dan Curnutt.
393 reviews13 followers
January 16, 2015
When you read a book by a "Whistleblower" you aren't sure if you are going to get an informational read or maybe just some angry diatribe by the individual about how the "Corporate World" treated them poorly. So, when I asked for this book to review I was a bit worried about what I would find. I didn't want the angry diatribe.

I was pleased that the book did not just come off as a way for John Hargrove to paint SeaWorld as a terrible monster. Now, with that said it did not let SeaWorld off the hook, it did do a number on their reputation by the disagreements that Hargrove pointed out from his experience.

But the book gives a good history of the work with Orca Whales and how that came about. It also gives a good view of how you become a "trainer" with the whales and the amount of work needed to get to the level of being an "in water" trainer (although OSHA has removed that privilege since 2010). Hargrove gives us a glimpse of his childhood and his dream of becoming a trainer. It gives good insight into the mind set of an individual who wants to work with an 8,000 pound killer whale.

The book describes the training of the trainer as well as the training of the whales. It gives you a glimpse into the personalities of the whales and how they act and re-act to certain situations. It also paints a good picture of how the whales can be unpredictable. It gives several harrowing stories of the tragedy that can happen when a bored whale decides "to play" with a trainer and almost kill that trainer.

There are also the discussions of the perils of a whale in captivity. They become bored. They become lethargic. They become susceptible to infections and disease that can cause their early death. It gives you the true response of a "trainer" who loves his whales when he realizes the trauma to the whales of the captivity. Let's be honest, any human knows that an animal in a zoo or water park is not in their natural environment and that can never be perfect.

Hargrove also gives a good description of the intelligence of these whales. How they watch the trainers, watch other whales and absorb the information around them. They make intelligent decisions, they sometimes make decisions that show they are having a tantrum or are bored and looking for a way to "have fun" in their environment, and that sometimes is at the trainers expense.

I enjoyed the book and thought it did a good job of describing the situation. I wasn't put off by the way Hargrove gave out information that was detrimental to SeaWorld, frankly what he said is just common sense if the average person were to stop and contemplate the problems of keeping a killer whale in captivity.

One thing is clear, these whales are highly intelligent, they are highly social, they have their own cultural hierarchy that keeps them in line and they enjoy interaction with humans (to an extent) and don't inherently desire to hurt humans, and in no way is it their desire to eat a human or kill one because of an inbred animal nature towards that event. These whales are aggressive in the wild, not towards humans but towards their natural prey.

Enjoy the read!
Profile Image for Kasia.
210 reviews47 followers
July 30, 2016
Finished it in one sitting. Never gave much thought to what it takes to train killer whales. It was such an eye opening. Great learning experience. RIP to all those who lost their lives working with those amazing and unpredictable animals.
Profile Image for Sarah.
394 reviews134 followers
February 16, 2016
The first thing I want to say is that I went to Sea World when I was younger. I saw the trainers in the water with the orcas and I thought it was one of the most magical things I had ever seen in my life. To see these big beautiful whales working together with humans was incredible and both the trainers and the whales looked so happy. But one thing that shocked me was the marks on the whales that I now know are called rake marks. When I asked my dad what those were he said that they were marks from fights and that they were probably from life in the wild. This was back when most people still saw Sea World as a good thing and so I didn't question it. When I heard about Tilikum killing a trainer I was really shocked because I had seen that whale perform and like I said, all of the whales looked so happy. Then Sea World said that it was just an unfortunate accident and that it was the trainers fault and I just kind of accepted that... Until I watched Blackfish a few years ago. Blackfish completely opened my eyes and I could not believe all of the lies from Sea World.

I thought this book was a good book because it was from one of the trainers who worked with whales for Sea World. He writes about the good and the bad and he writes about his own personal experience so it is quite interesting. The thing I loved the most was the fact that he wrote about the whales with such love and passion and I could really feel that. I thought that he really did love his job solely because of the whales. Most of the good things involved the whales and the trust and affection he shared with the whales. Most of the bad things involved Sea World itself - the poor living conditions for the whales, the unethical treatment of whales when it came to things like breeding and separating whales etc. and the unloyalty Sea World had for their trainers.

The one thing I disliked about this book was the writing style. This could have been a 5 star book but the writing was really lacking. First of all this book wasn't written in chronological order. I usually don't like when things aren't chronologically ordered anyway but the events John described were all over the place and he jumped back and forward so many times it was confusing. Sure, he broke the book up into blocks of topics but I feel like it would have been much better if he had told the story from start to finish.

I would recommend this book to everyone. Sea World should not be open. I think the solution is the same thing John spoke about, an open sea pen for these whales so they can live the rest of their lives in happiness. They cannot be placed in the wild because Sea World have screwed them up but they should be released from their prisons.


“Captivity is always captivity, no matter how gentle the jailer.”

“When you are trapped by a whale that has gone over to the dark side, you still can hope that you can look the orca in the eye and redirect him or her. But in SeaWorld the corporation, there is no soul to peer into.”

“I had a boyhood dream that came true, almost magically, like something out of a children’s storybook. In time, I discovered that the gorgeous dream was only part of the story, that the bigger story was more of a nightmare, for myself and for the whales.”

“SeaWorld’s pools may be large in human scale but they do not in any way approach the breadth and depth the orcas have available to them in the ocean.”

“SeaWorld’s history proves that we will never be able to predict orca behavior completely—certainly not aggressions.”

“But all of that water is a drop in the bucket compared to the killer whales’ natural habitat. It is like putting a whale in a bathtub.”

“SeaWorld says that its animals receive all of their food regardless of how they perform throughout the day. This is false...The reality is that it was still happening even as I resigned in August 2012. I know of whales whose food base usually ranged from 180 to 250 pounds per day being restricted to as little as 59 pounds of food.”

“Many of us chose not speak out about the conditions at SeaWorld because management might assign us away from the whales,”

“But as the years passed at the marine park, it became evident that the whales were not happy or well-adjusted, much less thriving.”

“If the whales out in nature were harmless to human beings, why then did we have to be so wary of their moods in captivity? Why did we have to worry about orca aggressions?”

“Boredom manifests itself in other ways. Whales will rub their faces against the wall or sometimes bang their heads against the sides of the pool. Some orcas even develop eating disorders similar to human bulimia nervosa. Killer whales, longing for stimulation, have learned to regurgitate food just to keep themselves busy.”

“Almost all the whales in SeaWorld wear down their teeth by obsessively rubbing them on the ledges, floors and stages of the pool. Sometimes, a whale can break off a tooth in the process.”

“On average, trainers drill and then irrigate 10 to 14 teeth for the whales who need it. It is the rare whale that doesn’t.”

“In the wild, orcas can tell if a seal they have been pursuing is tired or injured because their sonar allows them to sense the heart rate and breathing of their prey.”

“A lot goes on inside these whales because they are inmates of SeaWorld.”

“Unable to sense her daughter’s presence in any of the adjoining pools, Kasatka was sending sounds far into the world, as far as she could, to see if they would bounce back or elicit a response." [When Sea World separated Kasatka from her daughter].

“The culture and behavior of wild orcas vary greatly throughout the world, just as with people who hail from other nations.” Gathering them in the quarters of even the biggest of aquatic theme parks is like squishing people who speak different languages into a single jail cell—for years.”

“In the confines of SeaWorld, there is nowhere to swim away to escape and so violence is not just a threat but often a consequence.”

“I personally think,” she says, “all captive orcas, whether caught in the wild or born in captivity, are behaviorally abnormal. They are like the children in Lord of the Flies—unnaturally violent because they do not have any of the normal societal brakes on their immature tendency toward violence.”

“Young calves are never left in the company of adult males from outside their matrilines [in the wild]. At SeaWorld, the father of a one-and-a-half-year-old calf attempted to breed with her after the mother was shipped to another park in the corporation.”

“SeaWorld likes to say that they own only five orcas captured in the wild. More accurately, they have owned 32 killer whales captured in the wild throughout the company’s history, only five of whom have survived.”

“I know how long the whales at SeaWorld lived: 36 have died, 50 if you count stillbirths and miscarriages. Looking at the lives of those 36—which include orcas who were born and died in SeaWorld as well as orcas that were already a certain age in the wild before being captured—the average life span was only ten and a half years. If you add in the stillbirths and miscarriages, that average life span drops to seven and a half years. Among the calves born in SeaWorld who survived more than ten days, the average life span is only 8.8 years.”

“Since [Takara was] separation from Kasatka, her calf Kohana, just three at the time, had been taken from her and sent to Spain; and, when Takara was moved to Texas, her three-year-old son Trua remained in Florida.”

“In the wild, mother and calf are in perpetual motion; that is their natural state. But staying motionless is a skill that orcas have to learn in order to survive in artificial pools.”

“In one instance in Japan, adult whales grabbed and pulled the calf of another orca through the steel bars of a gate separating them from each other, tearing the young orca apart in the process.”

“Ulises did not produce viable sperm, according to lab results shared with the trainers. At least in the beginning. After Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau in 2010, SeaWorld claimed that Ulises’ sperm was successfully used to impregnate eight-year-old Kalia in 2013. I’d like to see DNA proof of that.”

“Immediately after Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau in February 2010, we were told of a corporate directive that all viable orca females were to be impregnated via artificial insemination, as fast as we could, and again and again.”

“The company denies separating mothers and calves, and when a mother and her offspring are assigned to separate parks, SeaWorld explains that the calf has been weaned. But orcas are unlike other animals. A calf is always a calf, no matter how old the whale becomes, it is always its mother’s son or daughter.”

“Worst of all, they would impregnate—whether through artificial means or natural breeding—females that in the wild would be too young to breed.”

“Our moral responsibility is not to diversify the gene pool of these orcas. We took these whales from the ocean and put them in a captive situation and now we are breeding them because we want more whales in our collection in order to make more money. Our responsibility is to make their lives better, not to impregnate them again and again in an abnormal way.”

“19 calves were taken from their mothers in SeaWorld’s history, including Kasatka and Katina, who were captured from the wild and thus, wrested from their mothers. Only two of the 19 separations were medically necessary, most likely because the mothers—abnormally young themselves—became excessively aggressive toward their calves.”

“As the judge noted in his decision, “SeaWorld failed to document several known events of undesirable behavior by killer whales when working with trainers.”

“Dr. Marino says that the killer whale’s highly elaborated neocortex “allows the orca to make conscious choices about who to eat and who to fight with. It’s not just a ‘flip the switch’ reflex... If an orca goes after a trainer, it is not playing... It is a conscious act, she explains, not a reflexive one.”

“The trainers who swam with the whales would on occasion get eye burns serious enough to require medical attention [because of high chlorine levels in the water]."

“Water quality, however, was far worse in France. One trainer’s eyes were so badly burned by excessive chlorine that he had to wear patches over them for more than a week or risk blindness if he exposed them to light.”

“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."

“What every experienced trainer knows with 100 percent certainty is that [Tilikums behaviour with Dawn] was an aggressive act—the very kind we try to avoid by meticulously documenting orca behavior. I never worked in the Orlando park nor have I ever trained Tilikum. But I know what orca aggression is.”

“Alexis and Dawn loved their jobs and loved the orcas they worked with. But after they were killed, SeaWorld blamed them for their own deaths.”

“I asked to see the video that I knew existed [of Tilikum attacking Dawn] because a camera is always on to record what happens in the pools. I was told, “Leave it alone. There is nothing to learn from it.”

“SeaWorld spins its stories this way to minimize the damage to the corporation and to manage the commercial image of the orca.”

“The company likes to pretend it is a scientific organization for the purposes of public relations. But it gets little respect from scientists.”

“The [orcas] have become so dysfunctional due to years of captivity that they would likely not survive in nature.”

“All of the reasons its orcas cannot be returned to nature stem from the fact that they have been psychologically and physically damaged by captivity.”
Profile Image for Carol.
1,586 reviews22 followers
December 28, 2014
John Hargrove was only six years old when he first saw his first Sea World Show. From that time on, that was the place he wanted to go. Not only did he want to be an Orca but he want to be an expert trainer. Every time he went to the show, he stayed after and asked trainers so many questions. Being an expert trainer became his dream. He began working at the lowest paying jobs in Sea World. He worked on the swimming requirements and a college degree to get a job with Sea World. He worked in the U.S. and France and even today has never lost his fascination for Orcas.

Then he started noticing things that he did not see at the shows.John developed an empathy for the whales who out of boredom ate paint of the wall of their tanks. The whales held in captivity developed medical problems that they do not have in the wild. They can grow blind from the chlorine in the pools. They are used to sandy bottoms instead of hard concrete. How can we use whales for entertainment when it hurts their lives so much? Whales need to eat 150 pounds of assorted fish every day no matter how good or bad their performance. Also the captive whales behave differently towards other whales than those are freedom. They suffer psychological damage, hurt themselves, other whales and humans. He describes it as them “slipping into the dark side”.

John Hargrove wrote a very emotionally and intellectually compelling book about why we should not hold this immensely large and intelligent being captive. It is not good for the whales and it is not good for us. As time passed, his body could no longer take the many broken bones and his spirit could no longer seen his friends hurt or killed. He realized that is greed for money not concern for the whales that drives the production of these shows.

He describes his naivety when he was a child with hero trainers and even later but then he started to see the truth of what was really going on. His argument is written very compelling and he uses his own personal experiences to show how he began to see what the whales lives were truly like. I thank him for his bravery is writing this book. John Hargrove has joined with those want the present captive whales taken care of and never have any more whales captured or born captive.

I saw on Sea World Show a long time ago and never returned. I left with an uneasiness and ache in my heart for the animals there. John Hargrove has opened this ache and let the pain be felt. There are constructive thingst that we can do. We can start thinking differently. It is time!

I received the Advance Reading Copy from Amazon Vine at no cost but that in no way influenced my thoughts or feeling in this review.

Profile Image for Sarah.
548 reviews63 followers
May 9, 2015
If Death at SeaWorld (see previous review) represents the scientific and political argument against whales in captivity, Beneath the Surface gives us the heart and soul of the matter. Less quantifiable perhaps, but no less valid.

John Hargrove was a veteran trainer at SeaWorld by the time he consciously realized the fundamental inhumanity of keeping whales in captivity and left the company in 2012. So wonderfully dedicated and connected to the whales he worked with, Hargrove spent many years defending SeaWorld’s practices, and, once disillusioned, trying in vain to protect the whales from SeaWorld itself.

Hargrove takes us behind the scenes as he wrestles with the internal conflict that plagues many animal lovers and zoo-goers; the relationships and bonds we form with captive animals are indeed incredible, but the foundation of those relationships and the consequences of circumstance are inherently destructive. Cherishing his whale companions and their wellbeing, Hargrove ultimately had to come to terms with the fact that human care is insufficient; captivity is cruel and, at times, fatal to whales and people alike.

In Beneath the Surface, Hargrove re-visits the familiar charges against captivity. But he does so emotionally, and from behind the curtains at SeaWorld, rather than a desk at the Humane Society or research facility. He validates from first-hand experience accusations of chronic malnutrition, behavioral problems, life-threatening dental and gastric complications, inhumane breeding practices, and, of course, the tiny, unstimulating, and often dangerous living environments.

Ultimately, SeaWorld seems to be a corporation focused entirely on money. For decades, SeaWorld has lied and bullied itself out of facing the truth and taking accountability for their actions (or lack thereof). They’ve put effort toward remedying problems only when forced to do so by court mandates or public outcry, and only with the most minimal intervention they can get away with.

Wild animals are beautiful and mysterious and awe-inspiring. And that’s why we should protect and hold their wellbeing above all else– above money and entertainment and sport. It is my belief that holding wild animals hostage (particularly those that are highly intelligent, mobile, and social) for our own entertainment is outrageously selfish. Not to mention counterproductive if conservation, education, and respect are our goals.

Humans can’t replicate the sea. Humans can’t re-create the magnificently intricate social bonds that are formed by orca families. Humans can’t fulfill the needs of these emotionally and physically complex 6-ton creatures.

What we CAN do is preserve the ocean rather than Shamu Stadium. We can rediscover our humanity, re-direct funds to clean up our act, and watch the orcas (and a whole bunch of other cool critters) play and feast and flourish. Cheesy, sure. But infinitely more beautiful.
Profile Image for Guinevere.
240 reviews
November 25, 2015
I looked forward to reading this book for months. I am absolutely disappointed by this book.

I wanted it because I thought it would be about the cruelty of SeaWorld and captivity of its whales. I thought it was going to be a former employee shedding some light on what happens backstage.

Not so.

Most of the book, is in fact, his autobiography. Most of what he has to say about SeaWorld is heavily touched with nostalgia and regret. Many phrases about how he regrets the loss of being able to swim with the whales. How he regards whale work as a "lost art."

Yes, I know that working with a whale in the way that he did for 20 years would be incredible and exciting, but I think talking about it in such a lighthearted way doesn't do the whales themselves any justice. The whales don't deserve captivity and all the negative health affects that have come with it.

Hargrove spends so much time talking about how special and wonderful he is, I think this book he wrote was more to glorify himself than to share any feeling about SeaWorld. Honestly though, any feelings he's had about SeaWorld in the book so far seem to be bittersweet.

Go watch Blackfish or read Death at SeaWorld. This book has no science and no heart.

I gave up on this book because of its lack of science. He says right out the gate he's not a scientist. This book relies heavily on his feelings, and the way he talks about himself is very skewed, he knows he's the best. He's arrogant and cocky.

This book does more harm than good to the anti-captivity movement he's trying to support.
Profile Image for Max.
734 reviews17 followers
February 14, 2019
A very important book about marine animal captivity. Stories like these are not everyone's cup of tea, but I am very interested in those so I read books like these even though it can get a little depressive. This is a honest story, kind of sad. It's also adapted to a TV production so if you'd rather watch I recommend that as well.
Profile Image for M Price.
212 reviews103 followers
February 22, 2016
With regards to a book of this nature, the topic at hand, and the powerfully heartbreaking story it is, star rating this book seems wrong, however that's what the ratings are here for and five stars doesn't even begin to express what John Hargrove put into it Beneath the Surface Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove

I have so much to say about this book, the mask that Seaworld hides behind, the most Gorgeous Beings of the OCEAN , where they belong, but are kept in captivity in horrendous, horrific, heartwrenching abuse all for the Love of a good show. As I typed those last few word my eyes just filled up with tears because of the truths I was blinded to, the words the Author told to open my eyes, the lies and the memories that my family and I created making Seaworld like a part of the family, before my family broke apart. So my last good memories just happen to be from a place where what I deeply fell in love with, with my entire heart and soul, are from a place that lied. I'm trying to make peace with that while at the same time trying to create a balance of sorts for the Love I had for Seaworld and the devastating truths that this author/ex-14 year trainer of Seaworld and now activist to shut Seaworld down.

As I said above, I have much to say here about the book and Mr. Hargroves story. I 'really' need some time to let this sink in, to get through a thought or a sentence without crying and to give the Author and the marine life the review of this book they so deeply deserve. They deserve our support!! They deserve our attention, action, and appreciation!! They deserve everything everyone can do to help make a difference!!

I'm literally crying too hard over this at the moment to formulate and type out a review that will suffice. All I can ask while I let this sit for a bit is for everyone to get involved. The author, the publisher have videos posted on Twitter which I will share here by tomorrow. I urge everyone with a heart that beats to please grab a copy of this book, read it, really read it and listen to this author!!

Thank you to .@Goodreads .@PalgraveUSA and .@johnjhargrove for the gift of this book. It's a heartbreaking story, however the truth should ALWAYS come first!! As I've posted on Twitter to the Author, I support him and all who are a part of the mission to Shut Seaworld Down!

Please know that this is not my review (it's a mess typed through tears from a Beautiful family story that once was as I deal with what I've learned really is), however there will be one up asap and I'll recommend this book to everyone, share it and post the links to all pertinent information to help this cause! I stand as strong as I can with all involved at making a difference. The first place I feel is the best start for anyone whom would like to stand with us, is in this book!! Please stand up and join in!

Profile Image for Amy.
331 reviews3 followers
March 8, 2015
This book was amazing. It was well written and easy to read and to understand. Much more than a rehash of Blackfish, John Hargrove here tells his story, and the stories of the whales he loves, as a high level trainer with Sea World. His joy and heartache are equally explored.

The book offers an insiders view of the dangers to the trainers, the inherent cruelty of Orca captivity, and the link between the two. I'm currently also reading a book about North Korean labor camps and some of the explanations for how captivity warps psychology are hauntingly similar.

One of my favorite things about this book is that at the end Mr. Hargrove offers practical solutions. He understands that the captive whale population cannot be dumped back into the oceans to fend for themselves and he had well thought out recommendations to help the whales and Sea World.

I highly recommend this book!

I received an ARC of this book as part of the goodreads first program.
Profile Image for Ariel.
585 reviews23 followers
June 16, 2015
After you have read this book you will never be able to see cetacea captivity in the same way again. I had already made up my mind about Sea World after reading David Kirby's book Death at Sea World. John Hargrove's book just reinforced everything I already knew and felt. This past January I had the honor of meeting and speaking with some of the people John Hargrove mentions in his book. Jane-Velez Mitchell, Naomi Rose, and Howard Garrett, along with two thousand other people gathered at the Miracle march for Lolita in Biscayne Bay, to bring attention to the deplorable conditions Lolita is living in at the Miami Seaquarium. Hearing these people speak in person gives me hope that one day the human race will right the terrible wrong that has been done to these magnificient creatures. John Hargrove is just one more voice added to the growing chorus that says keeping these animals in captivity is wrong! The tide is changing against you Sea World.
Profile Image for Ken.
348 reviews35 followers
March 8, 2016
I tried not to be biased! I even looked up "the truth about Blackfish" by Seaworld.

I find all Seaworld argument to be statements without any supporting evidence. While Mr.Hargrove's are well detailed and convincing (it would be difficult to elaborate as concisely if fictionalized).

It is unfortunate that it becomes an Us vs Them situation. It is unfortunate that Seaworld takes the stand of Captivity-of-Orcas-for Education/Research purposes and not profit-making.

Seaworld should take a 90 degree turn on their business model and investigate and publicise the effort of facility upgrades/ocean pens(or whatever the proper name is). One would think they can design it in such a way that would allow the shows to go on. For example, enticing the orcas back at showtimes. Animals are known to prefer being fed than having to hunt. Or something like that. Sorry, I digress.

Clearly, orcas cannot be compassionately held in captivity. We didnot know as much about orcas in the 60's and 70's as we do now. It was "ok" to hold animals in captivity back then. Culturally, we're more aware of animal welfare now than ever.It is not exactly Seaworld's fault for things to turn out the way they are, but it's dumber to insist continuing the argument with little supporting facts.

Well done, Mr Hargrove!

Profile Image for Caroline.
216 reviews110 followers
April 18, 2020
This was really informative. A must read for anyone interested in killer whales. It goes into a lot detail into the terrible lives of whales in captivity tho which is heartbreaking.
March 29, 2015
If one wonders what life is like for an apex predator confined to a tank, then 'Beneath the Surface' offers a front row seat. Served with a dose of psychological clarity, the author weighs in on the complicated and muddied waters of the trainer-whale relationship.

With the orca captivity debate still raging, Hargrove highlights one thing about forcing whales into artificial environments – it’s complicated and often dangerous. Having worked with 20 different whales during his career, only someone with his knowledge could reveal the grittier details behind SeaWorld’s public image.

The orcas' skills and smarts are never more clearly displayed than when Hargrove describes the hunting techniques used to garner seagulls. And these are tactics employed by both wild-caught and captive-born whale alike.

With four human deaths attributed to captive orcas, the incidents between whale and trainer described in the book help to explain why. In short, if an orca chooses to kill, there is not much that can avert it.

Dawn Brancheau’s death forcibly changed SeaWorld’s business model forever, and while trainers performing in the water orcas remains a thing of the past at SeaWorld parks, Hargrove points out that Dawn wasn’t even in the water when she was killed by Tilikum. This important point is overlooked, when in reality, it should never be forgotten.

If there is any greater endorsement for Hargrove’s book however, it is SeaWorld’s reaction to it so far. Prior to publishing, the giant marine park threatened legal action against the former trainer and his publisher – Palgrave Macmillan. This legal action was dropped and SeaWorld launched a new ad campaign to coincide with the book’s release. Whenever an attempt to silence a book is made -- obviously without legal recourse in this case, one must question why.
Profile Image for Wendi Manning.
174 reviews10 followers
March 22, 2015
This is an amazing book. I wasn't sure if this was going to be nothing but a bashing of SeaWorld, but it wasn't. It was a story about a man who loved whales, dedicated his life to them. He started by training them, then moved on to fight for them.

It's not an easy read by any means. There's a lot to think about and a lot to learn. It's not written in a heavy textbook way, you learn through his descriptions and stories. I loved his description of a hydro-hop, the details of it made me want to try one myself...although I'm about 100% positive it would kill me.

This isn't a book about SeaWorld, or really about John Hargrove, it's a book about the love of whales. It's an honest, heartbreaking look at the lives of these intelligent, beautiful animals.

I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Polly Krize.
1,886 reviews38 followers
May 12, 2015
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

John's love of these magnificent beings is obvious, as is his determination for them to be treated as humanely as possible in the artificial environment they are forced into in SeaWorld. Throughout this book he demonstrates his love and reverence for the orca, and his involvement with them shaped his life. His keen awareness of their behaviors and feelings reinforces his devotion. In choosing to speak out against his former employers, he does so in a knowledgeable and perceptive manner. I am much better informed about the business practices of SeaWorld, especially the captive breeding programs, involving impregnating young, immature whales, artificial insemination and separating mothers from calves. Highly recommended, and much applause to John Hargrove!
Profile Image for Abby.
850 reviews142 followers
February 19, 2020
After having watched Blackfish, I really wanted to get my hands on this book. John Hargrove is a former trainer at SeaWorld and gave an insider look into the treatment of orcas in captivity. It's clear that John has a lot of love for the whales and that he was saddened by how SeaWorld handles of lot of its PR. He exposes the dark underbelly of the organization while also shining a light on how gentle orcas truly can be. The deaths and injuries of trainers were ultimately caused by the continued captivity of the creatures and were covered up. SeaWorld loves to victim blame in order to cover their own butts. It's very informative while also telling a story.
Profile Image for Ashes.
342 reviews39 followers
June 25, 2021
4.5* Such an eye-opening book. Perhaps not the best writing out there, but it's not always about the writing. I read it immediately after Death at SeaWorld, and found that the two books complement each other. While Death at SeaWorld gave me all the context necessary to truly get into John Hargrove's book, Beneath the Surface provides further insights into the exploitation of captive orcas, with some of the material being even more shocking than what was presented in David Kirby's book. But John Hargrove also talks about the relationship between orcas and their trainers - something that doesn't feature much in Death at SeaWorld. Hargrove's perspective is unique, as he worked for SeaWorld for so many years; it's also deeply personal.

Between the two books, I think Beneath the Surface is "easier" to get through for anyone who wants to read about orcas in captivity but doesn't have the time or the patience for Death at SeaWorld. Again, though, I need to note that I only got to appreciate this book and what Hargrove wrote after I was done reading Death at SeaWorld. My recommendation? Read both.

"On March 17, 2016, SeaWorld announced the end of their breeding program, which signifies the last generation of orcas in captivity in their care (...). Theatrical orca shows ended at SeaWorld San Diego in 2017 and ended in Orlando and San Antonio in 2019."
Profile Image for Joe.
32 reviews5 followers
July 3, 2015
This book says little that Blackfish doesn't say better. One senses Hargrove's yearning to share his truth but is left perplexed and wanting when his truth comes out lacking urgency or depth. I can see why this leads to accusations of profiteering. I'm both more and less generous than that; I just don't think Hargrove himself has the emotional range to pull this off. The book toggles between three basic feelings, and hits some false notes in the process: continuing to refer to attacks on humans as whales "going to the dark side" (which undermines the very intelligence he otherwise zealously attributes to them, and rings a bit fantastical and ridiculous), insisting on their selfhood and agency while adhering to the "your whales" usage in training lingo. This book - as do all books that never really feel like they teach, move, or otherwise affect me - merely happens.
Profile Image for Ethan.
635 reviews97 followers
May 20, 2015
With the summer season about to begin, many families will make the trip to visit the various theme parks across the country. For over 50 years, SeaWorld has promoted its message of conservation through education and entertainment, and has become one of the largest and most recognizable attractions in the US. But the park that has become synonymous with family fun faced a day, in 2010, of pure terror and tragedy. I'm talking, or course, about the death of seasoned orca trainer Dawn Brancheau who was forced into the tank and eventually killed by Tilikum, the largest captive killer whale in the world. The shocking death of Brancheau left a scar on SeaWorld's reputation and forced the public to reconsider the way trainers and animals interact.

Former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove spent over 20 years working with killer whales and was employed by both the San Diego and San Antonio parks. He was featured prominently in the 2013 documentary Blackfish and has become an outspoken critic of SeaWorld and its treatment of orcas. In his book Beneath the Surface, Hargrove details his career as an orca trainer and how he came to the conclusion that SeaWorld's treatment of captive killer whales is fundamentally wrong.

I have to admit to some trepidation upon initially reading this novel. I was afraid that, like most whistle blowers, Hargrove would simply present a one sided argument that portrayed his general disdain for SeaWorld. As a native of San Antonio, I have many fond memories of visiting SeaWorld and witnessing the relationships between trainer and animal. I was afraid that this book would do everything to shatter those pleasant childhood recollections. Surprisingly, Hargrove presents a fairly balanced argument. He writes about his relationship with whales Kasatka and Takara and the genuine love he felt from each of the animals. He also details the grueling physical demands of swimming and interacting with the whales. Hargrove tells of the amount of trust that both the humans and animals place in each other as they interact. After reading his book, there is no doubt in my mind that the trainers genuinely care for the animals that they interact with.

That being said, Hargrove presents facts from his experience that don't paint SeaWorld in the best light.
It becomes clear that the highly intelligent animals grow bored in the confines of their concrete enclosures. This boredom causes behavior that ends up being extremely detrimental to the whales' health. For example, the whales often spend their days chipping the paint from the concrete of their tanks. This damages their teeth and forces the trainers to perform painful dental procedures. Hargrove points out that the trainers often requested that the enclosures be repainted, but were denied. He notes that the San Antonio habitat still had the original paint from the late 1980's when he departed the company in 2012. At the same time, SeaWorld spent millions of dollars to update the Shamu Stadium with LED lighting that would enhance the show experience. Through this and countless other examples, it becomes clear that SeaWorld as a profit driven company does not always make decisions based on the best interest of the animals.

I came out of this book with a much clearer understanding of the captivity debate that has been going on for the last several years. Hargrove's descriptions of the death of Brancheau were difficult to read, but really allowed me to understand the fear, confusion, and sadness that all members of the SeaWorld corporation must have felt on that fateful day. There were many contingencies in place that should have prevented a death, but everything failed. It is clear now that our understanding of these animals has evolved, but SeaWorld has not. Captive orcas live a life that is vastly diminished in comparison to their wild conterparts. Hargrove proposes that SeaWorld not release whales to the wild as many other critics have suggested. He explains that the animals do depend on man to live and should be able to count on them as they live out the remainder of their lives. Still, he argues that SeaWorld should cease all killer whale shows and instead display the animals in more natural environments. Eventually, captive whales would be a footnote in the history of mankind and our curiosity to understand the animals that we share the earth with.
Profile Image for Bookworm.
366 reviews24 followers
February 23, 2015
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.

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 orcas are highly intelligent and social creatures and should not be in captivity. Some of these whales have been held captive and working on a daily basis for over thirty years.

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.

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.

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.
Profile Image for Erik.
96 reviews
April 6, 2015
Disclaimer: I received a free advanced copy of this book from the publisher as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

My biggest concern when I started reading Beneath the Surface was that it wouldn't differentiate itself from Blackfish, a documentary I valued greatly and had already influenced my actions as I choose against doing a swim with the dolphins activity during a Caribbean vacation, a small stand against animals in captivity. Mostly, I didn't see how written word could match the sensory emotion of watching and hearing a mother-calf separation on screen and the way the documentary made the viewer instantly empathize with the plight of the orcas.

Focusing much more on the trainer's perspective, I found that the book does indeed stand as a distinct and equally valuable part of the debate. Hargrove does a good job drawing out the tension between the fascinating relationship that can form between man and whale and the small ways that can be of value to each part of the relationship, and the unmistakable specter of the harm this relationship does to both. It is the battle of the idealistic view that no orca should be in captivity and making the best of the reality that some will be for the foreseeable future and some compromises need to do what is best for them. The tone of the book reflects this with a mix of both lighter and heavier moments, it mixes the emotional with plenty of fascinating informational points and ultimately is quick and highly readable.
Profile Image for Kathleen Smith.
185 reviews8 followers
April 9, 2015
I started watching the movie Blackfish, because it was mentioned in the Advanced Readers Copy I was lucky enough to be able to review Beneath the Surface, by John Hargrove and Howard Chua-Eoan. The film premiered in 2013 at Sundance. I am sure that I saw some coverage on TV, however I was recuperating from an accident, leaving me with severe spinal injuries.
In John Hargroves fact filled novel he uncovers and speaks of so many occurrences that there is no way that I could even begin to summarize them all.
This book is not for the faint of heart, nor is the movie...It is sad and gruesome and leaves you feeling powerless and unable to do anything about it. I can only imagine what the trainers who loved these creatures so much must have felt.
The fact that they go out and get the babies from their mothers, leaving the mothers crying out for them. They have intelligence, and sadly memory that while spending their time in a concrete tank they finally lose it.
We are all responsible and must pay attention to how we treat all the creatures on this earth.
Thank you John and Howard for caring.
318 reviews2 followers
March 8, 2015
This book is a great follow-up to blackfish. The author provides an amazing story of his approximately 20 years working with orcas around the world, but mostly with SeaWorld. He clearly loves the orcas and loved what he did as a trainer. But he also tells the reality of the problems the orcas have experienced in captivity and the dangerous situations the trainers have gotten into over the years, culminating in the death of two trainers within a short period of time. As someone who has a mixed feeling now regarding SeaWorld, I continue to be caught between childhood memories of loving the shows and the wonder and amazement as a child seeing the Shamu Show and the problems with the way things are now that were exposed in both blackfish and this book. And I think the author really does an amazing job of balancing his love for the job and the orcas and his call for change.

I received a free copy from goodreads but my opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Kristina Lynn.
73 reviews218 followers
January 7, 2020
Expose on Seaworld as a money hungry corporation willing to torture its animals for an extra buck from patrons who either don’t care about the health of the orcas or are blissfully unaware due to Seaworld’s propaganda. I’m glad the author spoke out and used his years of experience with the orcas in a positive way to become their advocate. I think the most telling story was a conversation he had with another trainer - who said the bible dictates that humans have dominion over animals so it’s ok to do what we’d like - aka force them into a bathtub cage, artificially inseminate them without consent, and force them to perform to survive. Really upsetting book that really opens your eyes to cetacean captivity.
49 reviews1 follower
July 7, 2015
Heart wrenching...I understand that these animals can never go back to the ocean. I also understand that Sea World no longer takes whales from the ocean. However, I now cannot understand why they continue to breed orcas even after all of the evidence points to the fact that they are not healthy, thriving animals. I have been to Sea World for the last time.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
216 reviews6 followers
March 27, 2015
An excellent read about the horrors of Sea World and their mistreatment of trainers and whales, from someone who experienced it all first hand. I highly recommend this book along with Blackfish (documentary).
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