Orcas In Captivity, Reviewed

Author John Hargrove interacts with Kasatka during a show at SeaWorld. He calls her “the most dangerous whale in the corporation.” PHOTOGRAPH BY MELISSA HARGROVE

Author John Hargrove interacts with Kasatka during a show at SeaWorld. He calls her “the most dangerous whale in the corporation.” PHOTOGRAPH BY MELISSA HARGROVE

A book we had heard about, finally reviewed in a publication where it belongs to be taken seriously by a global audience of concerned citizens:

Former Trainer Slams SeaWorld for Cruel Treatment of Orcas

Author says the damage to these animals in the name of entertainment and profit is morally and ethically unacceptable.

By Simon Worrall, National Geographic

the whole interaction, as though she was enjoying it and wanted to participate. So at one point during the play session with her son, I had her son throw me over into Freya’s pool, after I’d already established control with her through the gate. But she refused food that I had in my hand to reinforce her for coming over to me. She kept her mouth shut and then pushed me with her rostrum [snout] into my chest. I tried to deflect off of her. But the precision of these animals is amazing. You can’t get away, you can’t deflect. She maneuvered me into the middle of the pool, exactly where she wanted me: farthest from safety and other trainers. I asked her for a behavior, but she refused. I asked for a different type of behavior, and she refused that. I then asked for an emergency recall, which means she should swim away to a designated spot to another trainer. But she refused that too, and sank down to about three feet in front of me. She rolled sideways, looking at me under the water, so I could see her eye. Then she opened her mouth. I knew what she was going to do. She was going to put me in her mouth…

How did you become an orca trainer? It’s not a usual career path.

[Laughs] It’s not. But I wanted to do it since I was six, when I first saw a Shamu show in Florida, in 1980. I remember being so seduced by the whole environment, like a kid who wants to be a magician at his first magic show. I could see the relationship between the trainers and the whales: this huge, impressive animal and this little bitty trainer in the water, with people in the stadium and the lights. It was just an overpowering experience for me. And from that day forward it was my identity. And still is.

You say that at the heart of your relationship with orcas were “wonderment and dread.” Explain those two polarities and how the death of Dawn Brancheau affected you.

The wonderment is how I felt as a child, and how I felt as an adult at SeaWorld for many years. The dread of it was that you knew at the end of the day that these were still killer whales: wild animals, apex predators, that can make that decision at any moment, as we tragically saw play out with Dawn and Tilikum. We’ll never know why Tilikum made that choice to grab Dawn and pull her into the pool. He had a great relationship with her, and she had a great relationship with him. I do believe that he loved her, and I know that she loved him. But though SeaWorld denies it, this was a horrific, aggressive event. SeaWorld’s expert witness, Jeff Andrews, said that Tilikum was never aggressive with Dawn. What’s so outrageous about that is that he didn’t just drown Dawn. He dismembered her. He tore off her left arm and scalped her. Her scalp and full head of hair were on the bottom of the pool. He severed her spinal cord. And he never gave her body up. They had to forcibly take the body away from him. These are graphic details, but people have a right to know the true nature of what happened and not have it sugarcoated because it’s painful to hear. The judge recognized that, too, and stated it.

Read the whole book review here.

One thought on “Orcas In Captivity, Reviewed

  1. Pingback: Finding Solutions In The Wild, And Out Of The Wild | Raxa Collective

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