[Editor's note: Former orca trainer John Hargrove presented this testimony yesterday in to the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee of the California Legislature. The proposed bill to ban captive orcas was put on hold.]
Good morning everyone, I'm John Hargrove. I'm speaking to all of you today on behalf of Carol Ray, Sam Berg and myself. The three of us collectively have over 21 years of animal training experience. Carol Ray and Sam Berg both worked at SeaWorld of Florida. I personally have 14 years experience where I trained and swam with killer whales at both SeaWorld of Texas and SeaWorld of California, where I was promoted to the highest ranking Senior trainer at Shamu Stadium -- known as a Senior 1. I was also a supervisor of killer whale training at Marineland in France. I only recently resigned from SeaWorld in Aug. 2012.
Regardless of the park or year, we witnessed the same type of disturbing physical and behavioral proof that, despite our love for these whales, we simply could not give them what they needed to thrive in captivity. As trainers, we did the best we could with the resources we were provided but it still was not good enough. The evidence is before your very eyes:
- All the adult males have a collapsed dorsal fin and some of the females, a result of restricted space and surface, and resting motionless for abnormally long periods.
- We witnessed stereotypic and obsessive compulsive behavior such as banging their faces and heads against the pool walls and floor.
- Obsessively picking at and peeling the paint on the pools, ultimately ingesting it.
- Often these behaviors were so obsessive they resulted in physical injury to the whale but they still would not stop.
- Nearly every single killer whale regurgitated their food after we ended our interaction.
- Obsessive regurgitation carries with it a host of health issues related to the stomach acid which damages the lining of the esophagus and further destroys the already damaged teeth.
- This damage occurred by obsessively rubbing their teeth down on pool walls and ledges resulting in pin holes developing in the teeth. Once these holes formed, We were forced to manually drill the tooth in what is known as a pulpotomy, then have to invasively irrigate the drilled holes in the teeth with a metal catheter every day, two to three times per day.
All these issue are a direct product of boredom from living in such a horrifically sterile environment.
At SeaWorld of Texas we consistently forced our whales to go into the smallest pool of the facility, the med pool, which is only 8 feet deep and roughly only 15 feet by 25 feet. Reasons for forcing one or more whales to repeatedly go into this pool, nearly every show, ranged from: keeping a whale from disrupting a show, to keeping whales separated, or simply not having enough staff. These whales were forced to float motionless in this 8-foot-deep pool for up to hours at a time.
I fought this issue with management but still could not stop it.
I was a trainer at Shamu stadium in California when Daniel Dukes was killed in Florida in 1999.
I was a trainer at Shamu stadium in Texas when both Alexis Martinez and Dawn Brancheau was killed and horrifically dismembered. So I was privy to that information, but they still withheld information. After Alexis was killed, I was swimming in shows again after only two days and still did not have any details of what happened. It would take two and a half to three weeks before we did.
I have been a victim of multiple major waterwork aggressions where whales have grabbed me in their mouths and pulled me under.
The fact remains that we will never be able to completely eliminate or predict aggression. Our own history has proven this.
Separating or taking calves away from the mother is one of my most deeply unsettling experiences.
SeaWorld has attempted to downplay these traumatizing events saying they don't separate mothers from their calves, and that Takara was 12 when they stripped her from her mother Kasatka and even sent her with her own calf Kohana. What they fail to tell you is the rest of this story.
Kohana was indeed sent with her mother Takara to Florida but at only three years of age they took her from Takara and sent her to Spain. Then they bred her unnaturally young. By the age of eight she had already given birth to two calves. With no mother since the age of three or any other adult female to help her she rejected both calves and the second died within a year.
Evidence exists that Takara and Kasatka were still traumatized just hearing the other's recorded vocalizations even years after their separation -- the same scenario they downplay because now we even forcibly artificially inseminate them.
We have learned all the science from Dr. Rose, Dr. Giles, and other prominent scientists. But I've seen SeaWorld take those rules, then break them. And instead of normal intervals you would see in the wild -- of births every four to five years -- we have artificially inseminated as early as only one and a half years since their last birth. I know because I did it with Takara in 2011.
In closing I want to express that I feel it was a privilege to have built relationships with 20 different killer whales, swimming with 17 of them, over so many years. I loved those whales more than anything. Because of my love and loyalty to them I am speaking from my experience what my own eyes and my own hands showed me. For the whale's sake, I hope you hear me. Please be leaders for this historic bill and end captive breeding and the import and export of killer whales and genetic material and end the exploitation of these whales for massive profit. Make this the last generation of killer whales in captivity, allowing SeaWorld the next 30 to 40 years to rebrand themselves. Thank you for this opportunity.