SeaWorld countered a former trainer’s book criticizing its treatment of killer whales by releasing a video of him repeatedly using an anti-black slur during a drunken phone conversation nearly 5 years ago.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, a company spokesperson, Fred Jacobs, said that the footage of John Hargrove came from an “internal whistleblower.” The company reportedly sent the footage to multiple media outlets.
Hargrove released a book last week accusing the company of mistreating the animals at its various locations.
“It would make my life so much easier if I could say that those animals are thriving in captivity, living happy and enriched lives,” Hargrove told National Geographic magazine. “Unfortunately, after all the years of experience that I had, I saw the psychological and physical trauma that results from captivity. A massive corporate entity is exploiting the hell out of the whales and the trainers. You are nothing more than a number on a sheet, and if the moment arises, you will be thrown under the bus and even blamed for your own death.”
The video shows Hargrove talking on his phone to a woman while sitting near a glass of wine. The woman says that a group of black people threw rocks at her at a convenience store.
Hargrove then asks her what the store clerk did when he saw “five n**gers” harassing her. Hargrove uses the slur several times in the video.
“The video is particularly reprehensible since John Hargrove is wearing a SeaWorld shirt,” Jacobs said in an email accompanying the footage. “SeaWorld would have terminated Hargrove’s employment immediately had we known he engaged in this kind of behavior.”
Hargrove told the Sentinel that he had never seen the video and did not remember having that conversation. He also argued that the company was trying to smear him without addressing the abuses he describes in his book.
“This is so typical of SeaWorld,” he said. “If they’re going to pull up videos and say he was drunk one night and used a derogatory word … these are petty, childish attempts to discredit somebody.”
Hargrove also told the Times of San Diego that the company was using surrogates, including the websites AwesomeOcean.com and RealJohnHargrove.com, as mouthpieces. SeaWorld has admitted to giving AwesomeOcean a “small startup grant,” but denied having any influence on its content.
According to a lawsuit filed last week, the editor of AwesomeOcean, Eric Davis, threatened Hargrove in an email.
“Just wanted to drop you a line and let you know that some journalist [sic] are digging DEEP into your past,” Davis’ email stated. “They have some crazy stuff that is ready to drop when your book drops.”
Davis responded by saying he was not referring to the video and did not mean to threaten Hargrove.
The video, as posted online on Tuesday, can be seen below.