Wednesday, April 1, 2015

John Hargrove

John Hargrove spent 14 years as a killer whale trainer, mostly at SeaWorld. His new memoir is Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish.

From his Fresh Air interview with Dave Davies:

DAVIES: John Hargrove, welcome to FRESH AIR. I'd like to begin with the incident that you describe at the very beginning of the book. You're in France at this point, and you're in the water with a whale named Freya. What happened?

JOHN HARGROVE: I had an aggressive incident with her. It was the most severe waterwork aggression I had in my career, and it was the only time in my career in a waterwork aggression where I remember being truly unnerved by it - feeling like that I may not be able to get out of the situation. I had been swimming with her son in another pool, and then I ultimately ended up swimming with Freya. And as soon as I dove into her pool, I had another trainer throw me some fish. And Freya came at me, and I offered the fish to her. She refused the fish, and she immediately started pushing me, with a closed mouth but into my chest, and pushing me into the middle of the pool. While I was trying to deflect off her best I could, but those animals are so incredibly agile. There's no way. So she just stayed on me and just kept on me where there was no way I could deflect off till she had me right in the middle of the pool. And they do that because you're furthest away from safety. You're furthest away from land. You're furthest away from the other trainers. And then she drug the entire length of the side of her body down my body, making contact, so with her underside, her ventral side of her body, with the side of my body. And then she stopped with her tail flukes, one submerged, one above the water. And I didn't know if she was going to hit me in the head with her tail flukes, which would've easily broken my neck. She did not do that, thankfully and obviously, but then she went under. She ultimately sank down below me. She turned sideways. She opened her mouth, and she put the entire width of my body in her mouth right as I called out to the trainer that was closest to me to, you know, get ready to call paramedics. As soon as I said that last word, she pulled me under. She didn't hold me under very long or pull me very deep. And she ultimately opened her mouth, and she and I both floated to the surface together. And I repeated it - call paramedics. And she rolled. She grabbed me again in her mouth. She pulled me under. It was the exact same topography as the first pull-under.

DAVIES: And was this a pattern that you recognized?

HARGROVE: Certainly, I had seen trainers being pulled under by whales before, and I had been pulled under by whales before. But I had never seen a whale grab a trainer by their torso before. So to feel her entire jaws - and she's 7,000 pounds - around my hip bones. I mean, you know, seeing her, looking her in the eye during the entire incident. So I knew - I could see Freya's eyes still focused on me also, and I knew...[read on or listen to the interview]
--Marshal Zeringue