He's quick to point out that these incidents, though harrowing, could not be blamed on the whales. Rather, he said, it's the conditions of captivity, the boredom, the havoc that being in a tank for years on end can wreak on their mental states.
What's more, Hargrove, who also worked at SeaWorld San Antonio and SeaWorld San Diego parks as well as a park not owned by SeaWorld in Antibes called Marineland, watched his colleagues get hurt by whales. He saw one young trainer's arm get snapped in half by a misbehaving whale, and another nearly crushed between a whale and a concrete stage. For two of them, these incidents would end in tragedy.
Right back in the water
In 2009, an orca owned by SeaWorld named Keto killed 25-year-old trainer Alexis Martinez while on loan to a park called Loro Parque in Spain.
"When Brian [another trainer] dove in, Alexis was just on bottom of pool, dead," Hargrove said. "When they pulled him from the water, blood was coming from every orifice. The autopsy report showed that he suffered massive internal injuries, both his lungs collapsed. [Back at SeaWorld] none of these things were communicated to us."
An incident report obtained by The Dodo reveals that SeaWorld was informed about the details of Martinez's death. In its analysis of the incident, though, they did not communicate these to their own trainers, Hargrove said.
"I was personally swimming in the water with whales after two days in San Antonio - that was another thing that made me so sick with [former CEO] Jim Atchison," he explained. "In the press he'd say, 'We are such a tight family; we're pulling the trainers out of water for a safety review.' None of that was done with Alexis because they didn't care. There was just no media attention to it."
Despite its gruesome nature, few people knew about Martinez's death until dolphin activist Ric O'Barry showed up on Larry King Live in August 2010 and announced the news. Hargrove said that nothing changed after the death of Martinez and that the trainers were back in the water within two days of his death.