“Blackfish” star and former SeaWorld killer whale trainer John Hargrove is experiencing a week of ultimate highs and lows.
Just days before his scathing tell-all, “Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish” — detailing SeaWorld’s alleged abuse of killer whales in captivity — hit the New York Times best-seller list, his former employer released a damning cell-phone video showing an intoxicated Hargrove spewing racial slurs.
“When I chose to speak out I knew that SeaWorld was going to resort to tactics like this. It was only a matter of time,” Hargrove told TheWrap. “But I watched it and it was disgusting to watch,” he said, adding, “There’s no excuse for it, I don’t care what the context is, we don’t use that word.”
The video, taken five years ago by a then-close friend and fellow SeaWorld employee, shows a clearly drunk Hargrove talking on the phone while using the N-word repeatedly. SeaWorld released the video to reporters around the country amid Hargove’s media blitz for the launch his book which including an interview with Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.”
SeaWorld declined TheWrap’s request for an interview but a company spokesperson released the following statement: “We are offended by John’s behavior and language. The video is particularly reprehensible since John Hargrove is wearing a SeaWorld shirt. SeaWorld would have terminated Hargrove’s employment immediately had we known he engaged in this kind of behavior.”
Hargrove said that’s hogwash.
“I don’t believe that SeaWorld just got their hands on that video this weekend and it just happened to coincide with the week of my book release,” he said. “It was obviously a planned attack by SeaWorld.”
Ironically as Hargove’s former employer blasts him for the use of the n-word it turns out SeaWorld was previously cited for racial discrimination in its hiring practices. The 2010 book “Death at SeaWorld,” claims the U.S. Labor Department cited the company for employment records that showed a “disparate impact” on African American and Hispanic applicants. As a result, the company was required to contact nearly 1,000 qualified applicants who had been denied employment and either offer them a job or a portion of the modest settlement mandated by the government.
Hargrove said the company has been silencing its trainers for years with settlements that included gag orders.
“If trainers sued SeaWorld, they would be forced into bankruptcy as they were trying to fight SeaWorld’s legal team, or you would see them leave SeaWorld and try and get another job in the animal field and they’d be blacklisted,” he said.
Observes on the internet likened SeaWorld’s machinations to those from a page straight out of Scientology’s playbook, SeaWorld even went as far as sending anonymous packages containing private information about Hargrove to bookstores in an effort to persuade them to cancel scheduled book signings for “Beneath the Surface.”
“SeaWorld tried to dig up any dirt to try and discredit me in the eyes of my supporters. It was personal information from my past that they hoped would defame me and distract people from reading my book and hearing me speak about what is truly happening to killer whales while in captivity,” said Hargrove.
Hargrove describes SeaWorld’s “cult-like behavior”:
In his explosive book, Hargrove claims the company is a “soulless,” money-grubbing enterprise. He writes about the physical and mental abuse killer whales were forced to endure. Those conditions, he said, led to brutal and even fatal attacks by killer whales on their trainers which the company then swept under the rug.
Among some of the more damning revelations: the company slashed trainer’s salaries after it was forced to pull its employees out of the water following the shocking death of trainer Dawn Brancheau.
“After Dawn was killed they took five dollars an hour away from those of us who had waterworks approval,” said Hargrove. “They said we were no longer swimming with the whales so we didn’t need that extra five dollars an hour anymore because the job was no longer dangerous.”
Hargrove describes how SeaWorld slashed employee salaries following the death of Dawn Brancheau by a killer whale:
The book was released the same week a class-action lawsuit was filed against SeaWorld by customers who claim they would have never set foot in the company’s theme parks had they known the deplorable conditions under which the whales were being kept.
Another lawsuit filed in September 2014 claims SeaWorld Entertainment misled investors early on when it denied that fallout from the Magnolia-CNN Films documentary “Blackfish” had anything to do with decreasing attendance.