Kristina's Reviews > Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity

Death at SeaWorld by David  Kirby
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Jul 15, 12

bookshelves: first-reads, 2012-goal-60
Read in June, 2012

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 the book, David Kirby asked numerous display industry representatives for their input in the book (including Sea World) and they all declined. Despite this, I spotted many times in the book where Kirby tried to give Sea World credit for one thing or another (including an educational manatee exhibit, a beautifully designed aquarium, animal rescues, and grants for habitat restoration, but the issue at hand is killer whales in captivity) . On the note of Kirby not being an expert in marine animals, he never claimed to be. David Kirby was an investigative reporter who contributed to the New York Times among other publications. As an investigative reporter, he reached out to those who are experts in the field of marine animals and to those who offered a small look inside Sea World from former trainers at Sea World. Those against this book's publication will also tell you that the book is disrespectful to Dawn Brancheau’s memory. Where Dawn is concerned, she is not often mentioned in the book. There is one chapter that focuses mostly on her, but other than that she is mentioned only occasionally. If anything, this book does more for her memory than Sea World has by claiming that there are risks to keeping these killer whales captive and that changes need to be made, while Sea World blames Dawn for what happened. That being said…

I have always been a lover of animals and although I have loved the experience of seeing animals up close in zoos and places like SeaWorld, I have always questioned the ethics of it. Also, I am a history major in college. People studying history generally love research, verifiable evidence, and sources. While reading the book I was constantly looking up videos, articles, and interviews mentioned in the book to get an even bigger view of the picture David Kirby was presenting. I also poured through Sea World’s website and Facebook page.

Death at Sea World is a well written narrative of not only the unfortunate incident of February 24, 2010, but of the history of orca research and orcas in captivity as well as the reactions to the events of that day on both sides of the debate. It is written so well, I often became so absorbed that I didn’t want to work or sleep, just so that I could keep reading. It isn’t bogged down like many non-fiction books become with statistics and dates to remember (this coming from a history major), but flows easily by following the lives those who have been vital to the issue of orca in captivity and their struggles to get legislation passed to protect the animals and the resistance they have met in that battle.

After reading this book, I am compelled to become an advocate not only against zoos and animal theme parks, but also an advocate of getting people to read this book. It has also appalled me at how far companies will go to make money, and how far legislation will go to ensure the cash flow keeps coming. For a company to argue that people with PhDs and decades of years in the field are “not experts” when speaking out against Sea World is quite frankly ridiculous. The only way I can wrap my head around their train of thought when making this claim is that these PhD scientists and advocates are not experts in jailing large, intelligent, wild animals in small, bland, non-stimulating environments, and I suppose they are correct, which is the whole point. These animals were not meant to be pulled from their mothers so young (and in the case of males, probably ever), put into such confined spaces, forced into artificial pods with other unknown orca, fed dead fish infused with vitamins and medicines that they would not need in the wild, and impregnated over and over again at ages unheard of in their natural habitat.


Below are the updates I made after reading the first two sections of the books and how I felt upon finishing those respective sections…


UPDATE 2 (6/24/2012): I just finished "Part Two: Dark Side" of the book which ends at 66% through the book, and I am sad, and angry, and disillusioned. "Part Two" focuses the lens more clearly on the long battle activists have had with SeaWorld and "ProCap" activists over all sorts of issues including trainer safety, longevity of killer whales, ethics of holding these large and highly intelligent animals, and the release of captive killer whales back into the wild. "Part Two" ends with the much publicized death of Dawn Brancheau, and I assume that "Part Three: After Dawn" will cover the ramifications this unfortunate incident has had on the efforts of animal activists as well as what it has meant to Sea World and the animal entertainment industry. I already feel like I've learned tons from this book and am looking forward to the knowledge the last third of the book will share with me.

UPDATE 1 (6/18/2012): I just finished "Part One: Blackfish" of the book which was the first 29% and so far and am thoroughly enjoying it. "Part One" had more to do with the history of killer whale scientific research, how the display and entertainment business of killer whales began, and the first few decades of the business than any specific incident of aggressive killer whale incident in captivity, although the incidents are mentioned in this part. The book reads like a novel in which all the characters are destined to converge in the coming pages, and it makes it a really easy non-fiction book to read enjoyably and learn from at the same time.




*** I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads
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06/11/2012 page 20
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Norm (new)

Norm Davis Appreciate your review of the book. I'm afraid I have no reference point except having been to Sea World once and to a couple of zoos. Like you though, I've taken up the habit of writing a little reminder to myself after each chapter of a book. Sometimes it is relevant to my review. Sometimes it isn't. Sometimes my review isn't relative to my review, but I can tell you if I fell asleep or stayed up pass bedtime during my time with a book, and if you think about it, that's important to the review reader.


Carlos Jimeno Thank you Kristina - I am honored and deeply moved by this review, it is exactly what I was aiming for. There is indeed much to learn about these amazing animals and I am so glad you took the time to do that. Thanks again, I could not have asked for a kinder review. David Kirby


Ariel I live near Miami and after reading this book my daughter and I will be joining the next free Lolita protest. This book made me so sad that I actually starting feeling physically sick.


Kristina Ariel wrote: "I live near Miami and after reading this book my daughter and I will be joining the next free Lolita protest. This book made me so sad that I actually starting feeling physically sick."

I felt the same way reading it. I even went online to look for old interviews SeaWorld executives did with the press and I was so shocked at their blatant disregard for their employees safety and the animal's well being. SeaWorld's biggest asset is an uninformed pubic, and that is simply wrong on so many levels.


Ariel I had been planning on going to Sea World for the new turtle trek exhibit until I read this book. Today we went to Legoland instead to celebrate my daughter's birthday. At least no animals are harmed there because they are all made of legos.


Lotus What a great review, I've been an activist for over 20 years and nothing makes me happier then the hope gained when I read, or hear, about people realizing how wrong it is for us to keep these intelligent,social, sentient beings in captivity and saying they won't support it anymore:-)


Rachel Willis Thank you for an amazing review of this well-written, thought provoking book.


Samantha I don't feel like this book is well-written. Ittalks more biographically about the people involved in it, like Dr. Naomi Rose, than it goes much about saying what orcas really need or how they can be helped. It just turns into how a wedding was and ends in court transcript. Not very informative of the cause. If I were SeaWorld, I wouldnt have talked with the author either. Anything sai dcan be twosted so easily if the agenda is against a particular viewpoint. Again, I think professional research should've been more of the cebtral focus, as well as suggestions for how to approach and "fix" the situation in the future.


Lotus Orcas need and deserve to be free, you didn't catch that at all? Watch Blackfish, that will clear everything up for you, you can see it here for free... http://viooz.co/movies/21942-blackfis...


Samantha Ill watch it. I get that from everywhere else. I get it. But I don't think this book did it as well as people say it did. Plus, Im not going to stop going to SeaWorld. Call me a bad person, but I see the good in what they do there.


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