Every once in awhile I get an indexing project that is so captivating I find myself reading for pages and pages without indexing a single term (and then I must go back to the chapters again with the eyes of an indexer rather than a reader). John Hargrove’s Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish (St. Martin’s Press) was one of those books.
Beneath the Surface delivers on the promise of its title. Those who have seen the documentary Blackfish will remember the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was dragged into the water at SeaWorld Orlando by Tilikum, a male orca who had previously been involved in two other human deaths. Hargrove not only offers background and insight into Brancheau’s death, the consequences of which eventually led to a federal ban on trainers doing waterwork with orcas, he also takes us deep into the underwater of both the career of an orca trainer—the desire to work with these magnificent mammals, the long path to being assigned to the coveted Shamu Stadium, the many facets of behavioral training, such as hand-slaps on the water—and aspects of orca captivity of which the general public is probably unaware, such as SeaWorld’s artificial insemination (AI) program.
What will pull you into the book and keep you reading, however, are the complex relationships that trainers have with the killer whales in their care and the lives and stories of over two dozen captive orcas. One female orca in particular who underwent the AI process, Takara (“Tiki”), born in captivity (the same year my son was born) and called by Hargrove an “accidental princess,” leaps off the page and into the reader’s heart.
“Her name means ‘treasure’ in Japanese,” Hargove writes. “I love her so much.” But this is no cheap, sentimental love: “Sweetness has nothing to do with why I adore Tiki. I love her because she’s strong, she’s smart and she’s tough—and she’s a spoiled brat who knows when it’s time to behave.”
Beneath the Surface is available in paperback, hardcover, and ebook.. Learn more about the book and the author from the resources below.
- “Under the SeaWorld,” by Jure Klepic (Huffington Post)
- “Book Review: Beneath the Surface” (Scientific American)
Real Time with Bill Maher: Backstage Pass with John Hargrove (in which Hargrove discusses the artificial insemination process):
Blackfish Official Trailer:
Header photo by Robert Pittman [Public domain], “Two mammal-eating “transient” killer whales photographed off the south side of Unimak Island, eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska,” via Wikimedia Commons