Blackfish Killer Whale Trainer Makes Big Splash at New York’s Animal Advocacy Day

John Hargrove and Kim Clune

New York’s Animal Advocacy Day

An army of animal advocates descended upon the Legislative Office Building for New York State’s 4th Annual Animal Advocacy Day on Wednesday, May 28. This free, bipartisan, and yearly event, hosted by Senator Greg Ball and Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, enables animal supporters to network, share information, and lobby legislators. This year, topics ranged from creating a registered list of NYS animal abusers to the prevention of horse slaughter.

Animal Advocacy Day 2014

While I attended as president of Dog House Adoptions, the dog rescue I co-founded in 2012, my humane interests have long revolved around all animals, domestic and wild. This was my impetus for co-founding the community based animal advocacy site Be the Change for Animals in 2010 (which will be resurrected on June 28th). The site highlights causes that advocate for humane treatment of circus elephants, captive exotics, mill dogs, migrating birds, whales of all types, and more.

John Hargrove of Blackfish

Thanks to that last hot topic, a significant highlight of my day was meeting John Hargrove, one of many former SeaWorld killer whale trainers featured in the documentary Blackfish. As the film’s website descibes:

BlackfishBlackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. Along the way, director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the multi-billion dollar sea-park industry.

John is co-sponsoring the Orca Welfare and Safety Act in California and similar proposed legislation in New York, hoping to end the use of killer whales in captivity for entertainment. A petition in support of the New York legislation has received over 10,000 signatures. To sign the petition visit: http://www.nysenate.gov/webform/sign-petition-end-torture.

John is the [Photo] Bomb

Slated as a special guest speaker for Animal Advocacy Day, John was running a bit late. As the remainder of attendees filled the stairwell of the Legislative Office Building for a group photo, John slipped in under the wire and addressed us all. The most poignant point he made is that awareness is an evolutionary process.

We start as trainers because you love those whales. You want a life with those whales. And then, as you progress higher through the ranks, you start to see things from the corporate end of it, the corporate greed and exploitation that you don’t agree with. And, even as a high ranking trainer, you cannot stop those things from happening.

But John knows that you can stop it from the outside using pressure from the media. And he’s now taking every opportunity to do just that. He followed up with this note to me:

You were awesome and it was incredible for me to be around so many who care about animals just as much as I do- regardless if you’re experience is with killer whales, dogs, horses, or whatever/ we all have the same heart and [were there] for the same reasons. I had a great day- and we are winning this fight. It’s really happening.

Watch John’s Talk

Shooting video from a tripod during the final photo, and with my DSLR on me as I stood in the crowd, I felt lucky to have captured a distinctly moving talk from a man who spent 14 years so intimately working with captive whales, knowing their suffering and acting as their voice. Now you can experience that, too.

More on Blackfish

If you haven’t yet seen Blackfish, you can view it through iTunes, Netflix and on DVD.

For more about John’s thoughts on his career and the treatment of the whales, watch DP/30’s interview of John with Blackfish documentarian Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

Bonus Material

How fun is this?! This screen grab is a picture I posted to my Facebook timeline, which John then made his profile picture…

John Hargrove and Kim Clune

Comments

  1. John Hargrove says:

    Anytime I am around individuals like Kim and all the other champions for animals and all the inspirational work everyone is doing, it truly re-energizes me at my core. Everyone there had such great stories and experiences of compassion to help these animals who need us. I was honored to be invited and speak and grateful for everyone especially Senator Ball and Assemblyman Tedisco. A great day with people with the biggest hearts!

    • That inspiration is a necessary component of the work we do. Without it, I know that burnout will destroy me. I’ve come dangerously close to throwing up my hands … and then I see people like all those who spoke on that day.

      Everybody likes to think people in rescue have the biggest, most resilient hearts, but those hearts still break, often time and again. It’s when in the presence of like-minded heroes that I feel most energized to keep going. This day did it for me. And I’m so glad you were part.

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