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Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity Hardcover – July 17, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


One helluva book! David Kirby provides the most complete and accurate account of what I perceive as a transgression of morality toward the animal kingdom---the slavery of orcas, supreme beings in the aquatic world.--Ken Balcomb, Director, Center for Whale Research

About the Author

DAVID KIRBY is the author of Evidence of Harm, which was a New York Times bestseller, winner of the 2005 Investigative Reporters and Editors award for best book, and a finalist for the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, and Animal Factory, an acclaimed investigation into the environmental impact of factory farms. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (July 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250002028
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250002020
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (273 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #434,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Mark J. Palmer on September 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Review of "Death At SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity" by David Kirby, St. Martin's Press, 469 pp.

By Mark J. Palmer
Associate Director
International Marine Mammal Project
Earth Island Institute

Author David Kirby has written a shocking expose of the SeaWorld marine parks and the dangers posed to both SeaWorld trainers and the captive orcas from captivity. "Death at SeaWorld" was inspired by the tragic death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, when a captive male orca Tilikum grabbed her and pulled her into the tank with him. She died from blunt force trauma.

What is especially shocking is that Dawn was not the first trainer to die. Nor was she the first trainer to be killed by Tilikum. Furthermore, many captive orcas have died in SeaWorld over the years. As Kirby shows throughout the book, the deaths of trainers and orcas are related. Large carnivorous orcas do poorly in captivity, dying at young ages (Kirby notes that orcas in SeaWorld die at a rate two and a half times higher than orcas in the wild). And they can lash out at their trainers, with fatal results.

Kirby profiles Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal biologist who has been in the forefront of efforts to stop the keeping of orcas and dolphins in captivity for the Humane Society of the United States. Also important to the story were several trainers who quit working at SeaWorld and came out publicly against the programs they originally were hired to serve. "Death at SeaWorld" follows Dr.
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80 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Karin Susan Fester on July 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
David Kirby's book Death at SeaWorld documents and effectively engages with the fierce debate about whether it is good and right to keep killer whales (orcas) in captivity at marine theme parks for the purpose of entertaining the public. For his compelling argument, the author employs a wide range of sources: empirical evidence, scientific expert opinions, and numerous interviews with trainers and a host of others. Each chapter is packed with essential information and supports the author's comprehensive argumentation.

In February 2010, Tilikum, a male killer whale at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida killed Dawn Brancheau, an experienced trainer, during a public performance. Tilikum is also directly linked to the death of Keltie Byrne in 1991 and Daniel Dukes in 1999. This is not only a human tragedy, but also one for the orca involved--Tilikum. The marine animal display industry has been harshly criticized already for several decades because they maintain orcas (killer whales) in captivity. The horrific tragedy in 2010 is now a catalyst for moving the debate forward. Anti-captivity advocates hope orca captivity will finally come to an end. However, it is not so simple.

Kirby provides critical discussion from both sides of the debate. He vigorously argues with support of insurmountable evidence and source material, that Tilikum, like countless other orcas held in captivity, is a genuine victim of humans' cruel, ignorant actions. The immense revenue generated from killer whale performances only perpetuates the ongoingmiserythat these animals must endure in their daily lives.
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55 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Batt on July 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
From horrific orca captures to the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, David Kirby's groundbreaking investigative thriller chillingly exposes a side of SeaWorld deftly hidden from public view, including the vast difference between orcas in captivity and their wild counterparts.

In the Northern Resident orca community for example, "orcas have their own cultures," Kirby explains, with each pod having its own signature collection of clicks and whistles. Rose discovered and wrote in her dissertation, that "Residents travel in matrifocal [centered on the mother] units called matrileneal groups." In other words, Kirby said, from infancy to old age, male orcas "spend most of their time by their mother's side," thus making them "the planet's ultimate mama's boys."

Quite unlike their Resident counterparts, Transient killer whales are less vocal and less maternal, the book says. In fact some scientists the author explained, "now believe that the two ecotypes should officially be designated distinct species." These two types of orcas Kirby adds, really "do not like to mix." It's a point hammered home harshly later in the book, when SeaWorld's breeding program is explored in more depth, and it is revealed that Transient orcas are bred to Resident orcas, without any regard for the differences between "species and races."

Former trainers at SeaWorld said the compnay possessed a culture all of its own. A world of "operant conditioning" and smoke and mirrors designed to obfuscate the most discerning guest. Use of industry "buzzwords" coupled with drilled responses were part of a comprehensive handbook and repertoire that trainers were compelled to learn.
There was an entire list of words to avoid said Kirby, as trainers were "spoonfed corporate soundbites.
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