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Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity

4.26  ·  Rating Details ·  2,467 Ratings  ·  434 Reviews
From the New York Times bestselling author of Evidence of Harm and Animal Factory—a groundbreaking scientific thriller that exposes the dark side of SeaWorld, America’s most beloved marine mammal park.

Death at SeaWorld centers on the battle with the multimillion-dollar marine park industry over the controversial and even lethal ramifications of keeping killer whales in cap
Kindle Edition, 480 pages
Published July 17th 2012 by St. Martin's Press
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Mar 22, 2016 Ana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Animal lovers
'For man cannot give wild animals freedom, they can only take it away.' - Jacques-Yves Cousteau

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I've always been fascinated by the sea and its creatures. Great white sharks, orcas... I love them. I'd never get in the water with them, but I love them.

I'm not one of those crazy activists, but I feel very strongly that animals don't belong in captivity.

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The documentary 'Blackfish' moved me in ways I didn't know were possible. It was so intense and powerful I couldn't stop thinking about it. S
May 31, 2012 Kristina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is long, so first off…
A friend of mine wanted me to narrow this down to three words, so here you go: Read the book!

Before a riot starts on the thread of this review, I would like to say, SeaWorld, its supporters, and others in the animal theme park community will tell you not to read this book, that it is one-sided and that the author is not an expert on the subject of marine animals. They are correct. The book is mostly one-sided, however as noted in the Author’s Note at the beginning of
Jan 30, 2012 Brittany rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthrozoology
The first, and most important thing, to say about this book is that it's prodigiously well-researched and compulsively readable. Spurred by Dawn Brancheau's death (and Alexis Martínez's less-publicized death) and the subsequent Outside magazine article Killer In The Pool, Kirby launched a full-scale journalistic investigation into the history of orcas in captivity, specifically those at SeaWorld. Kirby does his homework; he starts out with the history of orca/human conflict, delves deep into the ...more
Several years ago I watched a National Geographic special on sea lions. I’ll never forget it. A little baby sea lion had just shed her fuzzy white fur and was starting to move around on the snow, when all of a sudden a giant killer whale cracked through the ice from below, leap up and grabbed her. The orca didn’t just kill the pup right away either. No instead both orcas tossed the baby seal back and forth between them on their rostrums like they were playing. The pup’s cries were heartbreaking ...more
Alex Lewis
Jun 25, 2012 Alex Lewis rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone!
Death at SeaWorld is by far one of the best books I have ever read. I've been very active in the anti-captivity movement in the last six months. I've been highly anticipating Kirby's book for many obvious reasons but more so to have a deeper in-depth knowledge of what goes on "behind the scenes" at entertainment parks like SeaWorld. My suspicions of these places were not only confirmed by Kirby but I was also shocked at some of the events that have gone on in the past that I had no knowledge of ...more
Sep 21, 2012 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2012
I’m not sure what made me pick up this book. Maybe because it’s about Sea World and I live in San Diego. I’ve seen them rescue random marine animals and I also worked at Sea World a couple summers during college. Alas I’ve been sort of anti-Sea World lately for reasons I didn’t fully comprehend. This sure as hell explains it.

The author does an excellent job of winding a narrative through this non-fiction piece. It reads much like a story, or at least parts of it do. The science is fascinating an
Jul 23, 2013 Shainna rated it it was ok
Slice this book in half and you've got all the information you're going to get from David Kirby's collection of accounts and arguments against captivity of whales. The rest was biography of a handful of people, which was not what I signed up for when I picked to read this book. I wanted to read about whales, not about Dr. Naomi Rose's time researching. Pages devoted to recounting people's histories bored me. Outside of his biographical narrative of the humans, most of his arguments were redundan ...more
Jul 26, 2012 Ariel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
One of the most powerful books I have ever read and along with Unbroken, my favorite nonfiction read of the year. This book exposes the true corporate greed motivating Sea World as opposed to the science/ conservation image that they want the public to swallow hook, line, and sinker. Much like how Upton Sinclairs, The Jungle (another favorite of mine) exposed the seedy side of the meatpacking industry during the early 20th century, this book lays bare the Sea World behind the facade they put for ...more
Heather Fineisen
I never knew I had an opinion on whale captivity. I was horrified at the death of the trainer at Sea World and believed it's just common sense not to hang out with killer whales. After watching the movie Blackfish recently, I was struck by the seemingly deep emotions experienced by the whales when they were captured, both by the pod members still at Sea and those taken away. I needed to know more. I know more now but this is a decidedly one sided picture as Sea World did not participate in Kirby ...more
Well, I guess the one thing I can say about this book is that it opened up a whole new world for me. Truthfully, I never gave whales much of a thought. Sure, I remember all the bumper stickers and such about “save the whales,” but I guess it just wasn’t something that was very relevant in my life. I did see the movie “Free Willy”, but to me it was just a movie, nothing more. I have never been to Sea World, and I may have seen a whale show only a couple of times at a smaller aquarium or zoo. Also ...more
Sibel Hodge
Jan 14, 2015 Sibel Hodge rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With the wide-spread recognition of the docufilm Blackfish and The Cove, this book goes into more of the scientific background and debate surrounding cetaceans in captivity. Vast research has been done with scientists, experts, eyewitnesses, and ex-marine park trainers to uncover the truth surrounding the multi-million pound industry that abuses these animals for financial gain. It exposes cover ups and shocking treatment and suffering that fuels the greed behind this industry. Sickening, heartb ...more
Lisa Vale
Sep 11, 2012 Lisa Vale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
I highly recommend this book. I grew up with season passes to SeaWorld in absolute awe of these creatures assuming that SeaWorld was truly a proponent of killer whale conservation and education. In all the years I went to SeaWorld I knew truly nothing about how these whales lived in the wild or what their lives were like in and out of captivity....or more importantly, how many were acquired. SeaWorld is in the business of entertainment. I no longer believe they have the whales best interests at ...more
Sep 13, 2015 Eric_W rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Our relationship to the animals around us is a tenuous one. As the earth’s top predators what responsibility do we have to other species? I remember going to Seaworld in California many years ago and watching in awe as the orcas performed their tricks. I would be less enthralled today after what we have learned over the years regarding the natural habitat of the orcas compared to the cramped and unnatural living quarters of those in captivity.

Tilikum had been captured as a baby off Iceland (not
It is hard for me to write when I feel so emotional about something like this. This book was all about the captivity of Killer Whales (orcas) and how this has effected them, and the people around them. Sea World has in its ownership right now among other whales, a Killer Whale named "Tilikum" aka "Tilly", that has been responsible for 3 "trainer" deaths so far. When I use quotes with the word "trainer" it is because these people are taught how to teach animal tricks...not anything else. The exp ...more
May 31, 2012 Kristen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I didn't expect to like this book - which came to me via Goodreads' firstreads program. I put off reading it, wondering what I'd been thinking. I knew it would be depressing. And it's long.

I skipped the introduction, going straight to the prologue. (Why would a book need both an introduction and a prologue?) And I was hooked. It began with a young trainer in British Columbia dying as three killer whales dragged her underwater, roughed her up, and drowned her.

This provides for suspense througho
Elizabeth Batt
Jul 03, 2012 Elizabeth Batt rated it it was amazing
Through changing perceptions and the examination of procedures at one of America's premier marine mammal entertainment parks, David Kirby's Death at SeaWorld, seeks to answer several questions. Does captivity benefit wild orcas as the captive industry claims, and is it a truly educational experience for the paying public? More importantly Kirby queries, is keeping orcas in captivity safe for trainers?

Kirby systematically punctures the veneer cleverly melded by a savvy SeaWorld public relations d
Aug 24, 2012 Meghan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
wow. just .... wow. An eye opening book, both about the marine entertainment world, about what captivity does to whales, and about orcas in the wild.
I will never again look at whales the same way, and I will probably never again pay to support whales in captivity for entertainment. I highly highly recommend this book for any animal lover, or for anyone who simply wants to learn more about a fascinating topic. Well written, scientifically rich, and moving without being sappy. maybe 'compelling' i
Brendon Schrodinger
'Death at Seaworld' is a fascinating and meticulously researched work that centres upon the death of a killer whale trainer at the U.S. theme park in 2010. However the work also takes on the entire history of the captivity of these whales, as well as research undertaken in the wild.
What you get to read may be argued as one-sided as it argues strictly against the captivity of killer whales, but with the evidence presented, there is no other conclusion that could be reached. It does essentially co
Pamela McDowell
Oct 22, 2013 Pamela McDowell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult
When I found this book on the shelf, I assumed the title, Death at Sea World, referred to the people who were killed by the orca at Sea World. But really, the title is a double-entendre, as it becomes very clear that orcas are dying at Sea World, too. Kirby's book isn't just about these deaths. By the time I had finished the first third of this book, I had learned a great deal about orcas, their sense of community, language and devotion. I had always thought it a shame to have such a large, powe ...more
Nov 02, 2011 Peacegal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ll admit it: I’ve been to marine mammal theme parks. As a preschooler and again in 4th grade, my family visited the now fairly infamous Marineland of Ontario while vacationing at Niagara Falls. And at age 12, I spent a day at the now defunct SeaWorld of Ohio. I reacted to my SeaWorld experience in the manner of many 12-year-old girls: I was absolutely awed by the majestic whales and dolphins, and left the park proclaiming that I wished to work there some day. I wasn’t terribly ignorant of ani ...more
Aug 19, 2014 Shannon rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
**Note: I disabled further comments on this review by non-friends because people were getting upset about my opinion, and my opinion is that I don't like David Kirby's book. Everyone has an opinion on marine mammals living in human care, and unfortunately it is the people who have no hands-on experience caring for these magnificent animals that are the most vocal, and it's because of propaganda like this. If you're going to formulate a strong opinion about something and you're going to defend th ...more
Sep 18, 2013 P. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfic
also file under "enraging"

I went to see Blackfish last week, then this book caught my eye on a cart, and I had to take it home. I spent all day yesterday reading it. Apart from doing laundry, I couldn't tear myself away from it.

Kirby's prose is really readable, although it could have been tightened up, and sometimes he sacrifices good old reporting to try to heighten the story and he doesn't need to - all those conversations he recreated could have just been reported like an interview, which is
Jun 02, 2013 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book, I learned a lot about killer whales, Shamu, SeaWorld and why people are opposed to holding these large mammals captive in a too small enclosure. Capturing such an intelligent mammal against their will, putting it in a much smaller enclosure, taking them from their family and society and making them perform for a bit of food until the day you die would cause any of us emotional distress and possible aggression towards ones captor. Their life expectancy is lower in captivity. The autho ...more
Deborough Blalock
May 25, 2012 Deborough Blalock rated it it was amazing

While it's true that anti-captivity advocates embrace Death At SeaWorld and SeaWorld repudiates the book, oddly it's for the same reason: David Kirby, a well-respected journalist, tells the truth.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, owned by the private equity group Blackstone, is nothing more than a business chain like Walmart or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Their brand is killer whales, and regardless of the ethics or the science that says these animals shouldn't be
Jul 16, 2013 Nikki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I have read. Everyone should pick up this book because its such an eye opener. It is very well written and interesting enough that you won't want to but it down. Prior to reading this book the documentary The Cove had put me off ever visiting Seaworld and/or other marine parks. After read this I will whole-heartily encourage others not to step foot in any Seaworld parks until they stop the shows and return eligible whales back to the sea. I remember when I was little I want ...more
Suzanne Carlson
Jul 02, 2012 Suzanne Carlson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb, simply superb. Kirby digs beneath SeaWorld's public relations spin and uncovers both a culture of entrenched cruelty and disregard for employee safety. Credit due for repeatedly trying to get SeaWorld's side of the story -- to no avail.

Kirby provides the scientific arguments against keeping these huge marine mammals in cramped tanks, but draws the reader into the emotional connection we should have with these keenly intelligent animals. It's such a thought-provoking read!

After reading t
Jul 03, 2012 Heather rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I went to SeaWorld as a kid, thinking I was learning about marine mammals, but I didn't learn anything about the way orcas and dolphins behave in the wild by watching them do silly tricks in captivity. After learning about all the death and exploitation, I never want to go back.

I'm not through the book yet--in fact I just started--but I can already tell that it's a factual, compelling read. And the title alone should be enough to convince everyone that SeaWorld is no fun for captive whales. I'm
DNF. Stopped at p. 58, ch. 5

Sooo tedious. It doesn't help when the font used is so tiny. I felt like I was reading two pages for every one page I read. From the small bit I did read, it seemed like a lot of the writing was so much padding to make this a very long book. I doubt I will attempt this book at some point later on.
Animal and environment lovers, prepare for heartbreak. The sense of grief and outrage that consumes me after finishing this book (and watching Blackfish, the associated documentary) is overwhelming. The fact that money has so obliterated any and all sense of humanity and compassion is profoundly disturbing, to say the least.

The argument, which has been raging for decades, revolves around the forced captivity and use of animals (particularly large, highly intelligent and social animals such as k
So after watching Blackfish on CNN I wanted to know more about SeaWorld. I will admit I was under the impression that SeaWorld acquired their animals through nature taking its course breeding or hurt/sick wild animals that they never released back into the wild, thinking that that was what was better for the animal. Blackfish changed my mind on captivity to the point where I no longer agreed with their breeding program (many of the females being artificially inseminated and some inbreeding) but ...more
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Find the good : Animal Slavery 1 1 Aug 19, 2016 10:27PM  
Orca's in captivity? 5 31 May 21, 2015 02:17PM  
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  • Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth's Last Dinosaur
  • The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna
  • Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink
  • Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks
  • The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes: And Other Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and their Patients
  • Orca: The Whale Called Killer
  • Behind the Dolphin Smile: One Man's Campaign to Protect the World's Dolphins
  • 100 Heartbeats: A Journey to Meet Our Planet's Endangered Animals and the Heroes Working to Save Them
  • Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives
  • Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us
  • The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators
  • Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss among Vanishing Orcas
  • Ethics on the Ark: Zoos, Animal Welfare, and Wildlife Conservation
  • The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One

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“What we should enjoy, perhaps, is not their performance, but the mere fact of their existence. That, we believe, is wonder enough.” 7 likes
“One faction views SeaWorld as a Garden Hilton for killer whales, and the other views it as a Hanoi Hilton for killer whales.” 3 likes
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