Friday, March 27, 2015

John Hargrove Daily Show Interview

John Hargrove delivered a great interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We thought it was worth archiving here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

NPR: Former Orca Trainer For SeaWorld Condemns Its Practices

NPR: Last year 4 million people visited SeaWorld's theme parks, where the top shows feature orcas, also known as killer whales. For years, activists have charged that keeping orcas in captivity is harmful to the animals and risky for the trainers who work with them, a case that gained urgency in 2010 when Dawn Brancheau, a veteran orca trainer, was dragged into the water and killed by a whale at the SeaWorld Park in Orlando, Fla. When Brancheau died, there was some dispute as to whether the whale's intent was aggressive and whose fault the incident was.

John Hargrove, who spent 14 years as an orca trainer, mostly at SeaWorld, says there was no doubt that the whale was aggressive. And the reason for whales' aggression, he says, is that they're held captive. 

Hargrove eventually became disillusioned with SeaWorld's treatment of orcas and left the company. 

"As I became higher-ranked, I saw the devastating effects of captivity on these whales and it just really became a moral and ethical issue," Hargrove tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies in an interview about the book. "When you first start to see it, you first try to say, 'OK, well, I love these animals; I'm going to take care of them.' ... You think, 'I can change things.' And then all these things, of course, never improve and then you start ... seeing mothers separated from their calves; you start seeing trainers being killed, and then they blame [the trainers] for their own deaths." 

He said his "final straw" was when SeaWorld publicly testified that "they had no knowledge we had a dangerous job." 

The documentary Blackfish, released in 2013, covers Brancheau's death and an incident two months earlier at a theme park in Spain when an orca killed a trainer named Alexis Martinez. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated Brancheau's death and concluded SeaWorld had exposed trainers to hazardous conditions; it fined the corporation. 

In its order, later upheld on appeal, OSHA also banned SeaWorld from permitting its personnel to enter the tanks to train and perform with orcas, a practice known as water work. Now Hargrove has a new book, called Beneath the Surface. He is one of seven former trainers who criticized the company in Blackfish.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

VOTO Remembers Sam Simon

Every now and then a man comes along who changes things for the better. A man who puts the human back into humanity. Such is the case with: 

The Great Sam Simon...  

Stanford graduate, sports cartoonist, amateur boxer, TV writer (Taxi & Cheers), boxing manager (of a world champion), philanthropist, radio show host, animal lover, Co-creator of The Simpsons, tireless advocate, and much much more. 

The Broadcast Booth for The Sam Simon Show, at Sam's Place 

After the tragic 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld, Sam took an interest in the work we were doing at VOTO...  blowing the whistle on SeaWorld. This was prior to Death at SeaWorld and Blackfish. He read our website and blog religiously, according to him. This connection gave us the opportunity to spend some time with Sam over the last several years. He invited us onto his radio show, and we invited him to see whales with us. 

He saw his first wild killer whales at #Superpod2, where he also transmitted the Sam Simon show, from Friday Harbor.

I had the opportunity to visit Santa Monica and hang with Sam. He was interested in creating a movie about killer whale captivity, and requested that I fly down from Washington state. We sat down with another movie producer, and put our heads together. He seemed excited about the project. 

Those plans changed after the success of Blackfish

Earlier, Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite brought the film to his home and did a private screening. Later, after the film's success, Sam figured that he didn't have to make another movie on the topic. He told me, 

"Why should I make another film after Blackfish?" 

He also said numerous times, as Oscar season 2014 approached, that he thought that Blackfish would not only get nominated for an Academy Award, but that it would win the award. Some of his thoughts regarding #Blackfish are included in the interviews embedded on this page. 

Sam Simon lived in Santa Monica 

As an anecdote regarding the movie Sam didn't make, I can tell you this: It was going to involve ex-trainers, night operations, stealth activities, gullable SeaWorld security guards, and in the end, large heavy-lift helicopters. SeaWorld of California was targeted due to it's location near the ocean. 

A meeting space at Sam's place, with some Chihuly glass on the wall 

As far as my role, Sam needed to know some details regarding animal separations, transports, use of stretchers, and how we'd keep the whales moist and as comfortable as possible for their relatively brief ride from the stretcher to the open ocean... 

Damn... it's fun to think like Sam Simon. We'll miss you Sam. 

Jeffrey Ventre

On Behalf of All of Us At VOTO