Former SeaWorld Trainer Says ‘Whales Live Desperate Lives in Orca Prison’

John Hargrove, who left SeaWorld 10 years ago, is now campaigning for orcas to receive better care in captivity than he did at his previous work – where he said “stressed” orcas were kept in prison-like conditions

John Hargrove left Seaworld 10 years ago to campaign for orca rights
John Hargrove left Seaworld 10 years ago to campaign for orca rights

A whale trainer who has worked at SeaWorld has provided details of the disturbing sights he saw at the theme park, where he says orcas were being held in “prison-like conditions”.

John Hargrove, 49, who left SeaWorld a decade ago, is now working to ensure better care for captive orca.

John has warned Brits not to visit the park, claiming tourist money allows the “cruelty to continue”.

He has also warned that the penned-up lives of captive orca whales are the perfect conditions to unleash horrific attacks on humans – of those discussed in the 2013 documentary Blackfish.

The whales are doomed to live “a life of quiet desperation,” which could trigger “violent behavior and deadly attacks,” he said in a PETA report released last month.

John is pictured with injuries sustained while training orcas

Animal rights activists have called for the release of the highly intelligent marine mammals from SeaWorld.

In 2016, the amusement park announced it would end its captive breeding program for orcas but would keep the whales it already had to provide “experiences of meaning” to paying guests.

In the 2013 documentary Blackfish, John said, “Physical and psychological harm sustained by human prisoners in solitary confinement is well documented.

John’s colleague was killed by an orca named Tilikum at SeaWorld in 2010


Melissa Hargrove)

John appeared in a documentary about the tragedy called Blackfish


Melissa Hargrove/Peta)

“Orcas at amusement parks like SeaWorld suffer the same fate.

“From my 14 years of experience I can tell you that I have personally witnessed the orcas – like other dolphins and marine animals – suffer the same physical and psychological trauma.

“Imagine spending your whole life trapped in a small enclosure.”

He went on to explain how the money from tourists who visit SeaWorld on vacation packages pays for “this atrocity to continue.”

John says many SeaWorld visitors don’t realize how their money funds the atrocity


(Getty Images)

The 2013 documentary is about Orca Tilikum, who killed one of his peers in 2010.

John was clear that Tilikum “is not the villain in this story.”

He said: “He’s not the villain in this story. He’s not the only orca at SeaWorld to kill a trainer, either.

“We have had countless serious injuries and near deaths caused by many different orcas throughout my career.

“In addition to causing chronic health problems, detention causes extreme stress that leads to violent behavior and fatal attacks.”

Dawn Brancheau was killed 12 years ago at SeaWorld by Tilikum, an orca snatched from his family after being captured when he was two years old.

Tilikum was captured at the age of two and taken away from his family


Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

During his time in captivity, he also killed two other people.

John said: “Confinement not only causes chronic health problems but also extreme stress leading to violent behavior and fatal attacks.

“We were able to determine the stress level in their blood, which is why countless orcas were treated with medication.

“Tilikum was sold to the highest bidder and placed in grotesquely small tanks.

“Captivity left him thrashing about in frustration.

Dawn Brancheau is seen at a show in 2005


Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

“He died in his watery prison cell in 2017 – having spent more than three decades without any semblance of a natural life.”

He added: “Some visitors who wouldn’t dream of going to an animal circus don’t think twice before paying to see dolphins perform tricks.

“I resigned so I can speak publicly to expose what is really happening to these animals in captivity – the only way to bring about change.

“The harsh reality is that they are being exploited by a billion dollar industry built on animal suffering.

“If you visit a country that hosts these shows, vote with your wallet by staying away.

“The power to close these cruel parks rests in the hands of every visitor.”

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