Let me set the scene: Ex SeaWorld Trainer John Hargrove, who worked at SeaWorld for a number of years and was privy to what the public never saw: the sinister side of keeping captive orca in barren concrete tanks, is doing a 45 minute talk in the large auditorium at Whalefest, Brighton Centre, UK – which is the biggest festival for cetaceans in the world. He has already had two young ladies run out in front of him holding a white banner with red writing that reads: ‘Hargrove is a Hypocrite’ – which is he bemused about. He says that the banner was ‘better than the coffee’.
John Hargrove on stage in the main auditorium at Whalefest 2015
Despite giving a thorough speech about SeaWorld and the way the company manipulate orca aggression towards the trainers by muddling facts and outright lies, he has problems with the audio part in his speech. Whilst waiting for the audio to be fixed he asks if anyone has any questions. One lady who is from America asks a ‘sensible’ question (which I cant remember). Hargrove answers it, then she comes back with a more aggressive question. She is asked to leave.
Then Hargrove takes a question from another member of the audience. When he finishes that – he motions the lady who is standing just two rows behind me to ask a question. She is given a microphone by the Whalefest crew. At first it is sensible enough and with no hint of aggression: ‘ I understand that you were a senior trainer at SeaWorld, so what did that encapture as far as taking of other trainers goes and what role do they really play at SeaWorld?’. Hargrove answers. She interrupts him with her next comment which to me seems to be ‘off’. The terminology she uses doesnt seem right: ‘So they (SeaWorld) are not just throwing everyone into the water and you have a clear understanding that you are putting yourself in dangerous situations.’ I can see where this is going – she is attempting to absolve SeaWorld of any responsibility of trainers getting hurt or even killed and putting the onus on the him and the other orca trainers.
Her questioning is following the same pattern as the first lady who was asked to leave: the first question is a general one about him being a trainer then they go in for the kill with the follow up questions and interrupting him as he is trying to speak. The audio for Blackfish is finally ready to go – I am not sure if Hargrove has picked up on her aggression or if he just wants to carry on with his presentation: ‘… your question and I know they have the audio’. She jumps in quick: ‘I am just trying to comprehend as somebody who was so high up on his way into management after so long there and you spoke earlier about some incidents in 2006 and some people were killed and you continued to work there through 2012 up until two weeks before Blackfish before you started interviewing for them. It just seems a bit opportunist to me…’ At this point I have had enough – I just want to see Hargroves’ presentation – all these interruptions are vexing me. I shout: ‘Go away’ out of frustration and as the lady is just two rows behind me I turn around and film her. Ric O’Barry is in the same row as me and I can see him shaking his head. Other people groan and chime in.
Now she has the microphone – she is doing what she came to do: antagonise him and the audience and it does not look like she is going to back down anytime soon.
At this point – she should have been asked to leave but the organisers and guests (maybe naively, including me) were not expecting this. She says ‘How can you go to work everyday and put…’ I cant hear what she says because now I have had enough and to me this seems so suspect as she is the second American lady to be aggressive with the questioning. Has she been ‘planted’ in the audience? I respond with ‘Go away you shill!’ She is still speaking: ‘How can you take a paycheck?’ In the background I can hear someone say ‘Come on. Get out.’
The microphone has been taken away from her and but she ‘How can you pay to put other people in danger…I couldnt.’ Ugh. Life is not clear cut nor is it black or white. She seems very self righteous. People start shouting ‘Get out!’ She comes back with ‘How could you work somewhere for 15 years and put someone in danger.’ Hargrove replies: ‘You have asked a question and I would like to answer it – I have listened to you…’ then Hargrove still being professional, in my opinion, answers her question.
He is aware of how aggressive she is being and she will not back down. She interrupts him as he is talking about the previous trainer deaths of Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque and Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando:: ‘But you still went to work the next day.’ I repeat ‘Go away you shill!’ My father sitting next to me tells me to be quiet as he reminds me that everyone is allowed to have an opinion. He is missing the point though: I reply: ‘They have been planted! They have been planted!’
Hargrove replies: ‘…you are not going to walk out the door, you love these animals…’ She comments: ‘So you dont leave when you can work at Blackfish’. It has now descended into an argument on her part and with audience members (including me) shouting at her.
Hargrove seems like he has had enough: ‘there is a part of a question that doesnt make sense to me…’ I am beyond frustrated: ‘Can you get security on this!’ I say out loud. Hargrove is still engaging with her by answering her questions.
I turn around to her and say again: ‘We know that you are a shill and are on the paycheck’ (for SeaWorld). She replies ‘I am not.’ I come back with: ‘You are on the payroll! You are on the payroll! You are on the payroll! You have had your five minutes of fame. Go home!’ I sound like an old fish wife – not my finest hour. But what can ya do?
She then leaves the auditorium and the audio is finally working and Howard Garrett pops up on screen as the presentation continues. Hargrove doesnt seem too fazed. As this is a controversial subject and he has got a book coming out shortly, he probably expects this. She probably isnt the first to question him so aggressively and no doubt she wont be the last.
Obviously everyone is entitled to their own opinion – if you do not agree with Hargrove being a trainer for all those years then coming over to the pro freedom side and releasing a book about his experience working for SeaWorld, then fine. Maybe some people thought he waited too long before he left SeaWorld but his reply to that is he loved those orca. I think that it is easy to judge someone when we are not in their situation. The important thing is that now – Hargrove is on the right side of history and is trying to bring about change in the captive cetacean world.
To those two young women in the audience: Be honest and say what you gotta say – in an assertive but non confrontational way. Dont be sly by asking a question all polite and calm – then keep trying to antagonise the person and interrupt them when they are trying to answer the question/accusations that have been directed towards them. You lose the argument.
I do regret saying what I did to the young woman – I should have just let her say what she wanted to say – that way it would not have put me in a bad light aswell. We are lucky that we are in a country where we are allowed free speech. I think that I said what I did because it was down to frustration on my part.
Let me know your opinion. Do you think that she was a SeaWorld shill? Or just someone who has the view that John Hargrove is an opportunist who worked for SeaWorld then jumped ship to come over to the anti captivity movement?
If the lady in question was an individual who had beef with Hargrove – I wonder if she thought the entrance money that she paid to get into Whalefest was worth it? It probably was to her.
Does anyone know who the two American ladies that asked these questions during Hargroves talk? Or the two young girls who had the held the banner: ‘Hargrove is a hypocrite’ – If so please get in touch – I offer them a right to reply.
The issue of captivity and peoples choices in life are not clear cut nor are they black or white – unlike an orca 🙂
If the two young women who were asking the aggressive questions are on the SeaWorld payroll then just wow. The anti captivity, pro freedom movement for cetaceans has come too far now: There is no turning back. If SeaWorld have flown people over to the UK for Whalefest – the biggest pro freedom festival for cetaceans in the world – this means they are running scared. With ex trainers coming over to the pro freedom side after seeing what they see happening to the captive cetaceans – our voices are getting bigger.
All of us are helping to make an impact – we gotta keep chip, chip, chipping away at that captivity wall and one day it will fall.
At the end of the day: Both of the women got their 5 minutes of ‘fame’, Whalefest is getting bigger and bigger (the marine parks around the world know this), it even more publicity for Hargroves’ new book, he is welcomed into the pro freedom family for cetaceans and I get to write this blog.
Everyones a winner! And word on the street is that Hargrove really enjoyed Whalefest. He done meet and greets, participated in talks and debates and even helped out with the ‘Free Morgan’ raffle. Magic.
Now lets stop the SeaWorld breeding programme and lets get these orca and dolphins to seapens.
We got alot of work to do.