Review: Beneath the Surface by John Hargrove

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

beneath the surfaceTitle: Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld and the truth behind Blackfish

Author: John Hargrove

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillian Trade

Published: March 24, 2015

Pages: 272

Rating: 4/5

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


When the movie, The Cove came out in 2009 I had no inking of it or what it could represent. It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned more about it and decided to watch it. I rented it from the library and it blew my mind away. I cried when I saw the cove turn red as blood and as these innocent creatures were taken away from their habitat all to satisfy our entertainment. I signed the petition and refused to go to any dolphin shows after that. When I heard that Blackfish was coming out I knew I had to watch it. Lucky enough, it was airing on CNN and again it blew my mind. I visited the Orlando SeaWorld and the San Antonio one and I wish I could take it all back. I like so many people believed that SeaWorld was all about conservation and saving the species but after reading this book, I agree with Josh about their greed. I am now looking forward to getting the chance to see Racing Extinction which was played at the Sundance Festival recently. (The links in this paragraph lead to the youtube trailers)

This is basically Johns memoir of wanting to become an Orca trainer to becoming one to now being an advocate for orca safety and health. John started his dream when he was 6 years old and pursued it until his body couldn’t handle it anymore. John talks about his love of his favorite orcas, the history of orcas and how they started becoming used for entertainment purposes and the tragedies that happened. This was a behind the scenes of what was going on in SeaWorld and it was eye-opening. I felt for John and the orcas when they were in pain or became separated from one another. It was just as heartbreaking for me when I was reading it. I couldn’t put the book down until I read all of the stories and chapters.

The only issue I had and this could be because its an uncorrected copy was that it was a little chunky. And the flow was a little off. John would start telling a story about one orca and his experience and then the next paragraph would be something totally different and/or irrelevant to what he was previously talking about. But that didn’t stop me from reading it and finishing it in one day.

I would recommend this book if you have seen either The Cove or Blackfish or are curious about what life is like being a marine mammal trainer(I know when I was younger I wanted to be one but I’m kinda glad I never become one now)

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