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79 of 95 people found the following review helpful
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. And the aggressive behavior imposed on trainers and other captive orcas is apparently the result of the cruel and violent way they were initially captured in the wild, the post-capture stress they suffered, the way they are confined in marine theme parks, and numerous other reasons. Inevitably society has moral obligations to these animals, but at what cost?

Dawn Brancheau's death in 2010 has inevitably fueled and agitated the debate even further between pro- and anti- captivity advocates. Naomi Rose, the chief marine mammal scientist at the Humane Society of the United States, set out to prove scientifically that "keeping killer whales in captivity was unethical, indefensible, and hazardous to both animals and their trainers" (p. 238).

David Kirby presents two profound questions in the Introduction of his book: (1) "Is captivity in an amusement park good for orcas: Is this the appropriate venue for killer whales to be held, and does it somehow benefit wild orcas and their ocean habitat, as the industry claims?", and (2) "Is orca captivity good for society: Is it safe for trainers and truly educational for a public that pays to watch the whales perform what critics say are animal tricks akin to circus acts?" (p. 7).

The book is lengthy, the main text is 440 pages plus an extensive notes/reference section and a comprehensive index. This book should not be viewed as merely something to read, but also as a source for useful information and for encourageing in-depth discussion. Therefore, the scholarly character of this particular book--it's rigorous and systematic analysis of diverse source material and in-depth engagement with the core issues--makes it ideal as a supplemental text for courses in animal ethics as well as interdisciplinary studies in political science, cultural and social studies, economics, environmental studies, and moral and political philosophy.

David Kirby has left no stone unturned. He has successfully refuted the arguments put forward by the pro-captivity advocates (the marine theme park industry). He has presented valid and convincing arguments as to why orcas should not live in captivity and also why this is not good and for society.

After reading Death at SeaWorld, I came away with the gut feeling, that I, like so many people--even those who think they know something about killer whales--still have so much to learn about them!

I have seen the killer whales when I visited SeaWorld in San Diego and Orlando. Instantly my first thoughts were,"How can they be happy living like this...they don't have much room?! Don't they miss the open ocean? Don't they get crazy?" I am certainly not the first person to ask such questions.

The readers of Death at SeaWorld must now decide for themselves: Is it good and right to keep killer whales in captivity?

David Kirby's book is simply superb!

Review by Karin Susan Fester (c) 2012.
Disclosure: I would like to thank St. Martins Press for providing me with a review copy of Death at SeaWorld.
The review here on Amazon is an "excerpt" of the orignal which appeared on my blog: Philosophybookreviews
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2012
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. Rose as she studies the behavior of wild orcas in British Columbia (where orcas in the wild behave much differently from captive orcas, Rose notes) and parallels the SeaWorld trainers who grow disillusioned as they realize SeaWorld's public claims of "happy orcas" in captivity conceals serious problems.

Kirby describes the host of problems that beset orcas in captivity. Wild orcas cannot drink seawater, but get their water from the fish they eat. In captivity, orcas are fed dead fish that have been frozen and then thawed, losing most of their moisture. Orcas have to be fed immense amounts of gelatin to replace water they lose, just to keep them hydrated.

Orcas often break teeth in chewing on the concrete sides and metal gates in their marine park homes, resulting in serious infections if not treated. But orcas cannot be anesthetized like humans - they need to be awake in order to breath. So dental work has to be done on the wide-awake orca, drilling out the pulp from the teeth to prevent a lethal infection.

Kirby recently released a video [...] that came out during the SeaWorld investigation following the death of Brancheau. The video was from an incident in 2006, covered up by SeaWorld, in which an orca seized the foot of a trainer and almost drowned him. Kirby noted that the female orca had been separated from her calf and forced to perform - the orca turned on her trainer when she heard the calf calling from another tank.

Orcas in tanks are ticking time bombs for the trainers. Orcas in the wild virtually never attack humans. But they do in captivity.

Kirby says he came to the research for the book as neither pro- or anti-captivity for orcas, but he now supports retiring all captive orcas to sea pens, with potentially some of them being released back into the wild. This has been done by Earth Island Institute and the Humane Society with Keiko, the whale star of the hit movie "Free Willy."

Earth Island formed the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation, which built a new state-of-the art tank for Keiko in Oregon, and then, after rehab, moved him to his home waters of Iceland, where he remained for six years. He swam a thousand miles in the north Atlantic to Norway, where he died at the age of 25.

"Death at SeaWorld" is one of the most important books written about the problem of keeping intelligent whales and dolphins in small concrete tanks for their entire lives just to amuse us. As I write this review, the Georgia Aquarium is seeking permission to bring eighteen beluga whales into captivity in the US from Russia. This deadly trade in captive marine mammals must stop.
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55 of 66 people found the following review helpful
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." Marine mammals were "not captured," they were "acquired." Captivity was a "controlled environment" or animals were in "human care." Marine mammals did not live in "tanks," they resided in "enclosures" or "aquariums." In one particular memo passed down the chain, trainers were told that no matter what happens on any given day, "Stay positive and keep [explanations], on a 5th grade level."

Kirby shows that behind the glitz and glamour of a self-regulating SeaWorld, is a corporation that clearly brooks no opposition. For decades, and occasionally with the aid of private and government entities, the organization has bought, bullied and battered those who oppose it, right down to the little guy.

Far, far louder, screaming in fact, is the realization that trained orcas in parks bear little resemblance to their counterparts in the wild. Learned behaviors in artificial environments could not be more different, despite the company mantra that captivity for orcas is "educational" for the public. One only has to look at "the wildly popular raspberries," Kirby writes, "when whales make farting noises from their blowhole;" there could not be a more perfect example of how anomalous these animals have become.

Sadly, such parlor tricks, have turned one of the ocean's top predators into little more than a circus act, and Death at SeaWorld's crucial exposure of the industry left me feeling betrayed by an organization that courts families on a daily basis, then misinforms them.

If you TRULY love orcas, then you need to read this book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2012
This book made me re-exam my old beliefs about the educational value of holding wild animals in captivity. I am not a proponent of "animal rights" but do support "animal welfare". In the past I attended some professional training seminars provided by several of the "high profile" SeaWorld trainers/managers mentioned in this book. The trainers shared the positive training philosophies SeaWorld employed with such large, intelligent and potentially dangerous animals. They also discussed the excellent housing and husbandry practices ensuring these giant mammals were happy and healthy. They omitted mentioning food deprivation, isolation, frequent relocation, forced separation of babies or constant crowding during those talks. Rather misleading and self-serving, very disappointing.

I was espcially interested in the constrast Death at SeaWorld provided between the lives of Orca's in the wild and those in captivity. This was something I had not considered before reading this book. Understanding the intelligence of these animals, the size of their natural environment, as well as the importance of the family unit made me realize how inappropriate captivity really is. The mortality statistics and explanations for the Orca deaths cited in the book shed doubt on SeaWorld's claims of overall success and committment to the animals best interests.

I recommend this book for anyone who is captivated by the power, strength and majesty of killer whales, whether in the wild or in a theme park. Even if it doesn't change your perspective on captivity, it will hopefully cause you to think a little harder.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2014
I have had a lifelong fear of "killer whales" stemming from a childhood encounter during a nighttime "Shamu" show in which a whale jumping out of a dark pool scared me (6 years old) to the point of nightmares. I never returned until February 20,2010. Trying to face my fear in front of my children I watched Dawn Brancheau and the other trainers try to get the whales to cooperate. They weren't having it.. And they cancelled the show after Tilly escaped into the pool with 2 of the other whales. This was 4 days before Dawn was tragically killed by Tilly.

I have been incredibly interested in this story ever since. I loved this book and found it incredibly interesting. I would definitely recommend it. The only part that was a little "lengthy" was the courtroom talk.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2012
I picked up this e-book awhile back and waited for a non-fiction reading 'mood'. Boy, was I pulled into this topic. I've followed various orca-in-captivity issues for awhile, from the display of Namu in Seattle to the current SeaWorld captive breeding issues. I have met several of the people included in this book so I admit that I have a somewhat biased interest in the topic. The author covers the more than SeaWorld issues, including the relocation of Springer (A73) and her reunion with her Northern Resident family, Keiko's relocation to Iceland and all of the subsequent issues, briefly mentions Luna (L-98) and his similarity to the Springer situation, and explores in depth a number of issues related to orca captivity. Some may find the presentation biased, but I did not find it as openly biased as many other books involving cetaceans. For an in-depth exploration of the topic of orca captivity issues, I would recommend this to other readers.

Also good but much shorter: Killer in the Pool.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2015
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, heartbreaking, and a must-read. Read the real story of Shamu and others. No one has the right to inprison highly-intelligent wild animals in tanks the size of bath tubs. They require space and freedom and swim around 100 miles per day in the wild. They are highly social and require their family groups: just like humans, but often they are either isolated or kept with non-resident cetaceans who they are bullied and attacked by due to their hierarchical social structure. Subjected to too much stressful stimulus (sun/blaring music/people, etc),. They are controlled and coerced by withholding food in order to perform for "entertainment". They are masturbated for breeding purposes, have their teeth drilled to pulps which subjects them to infection. They bash their heads against concrete tanks or bars which to my mind is suicide. They would rather die than be subjected to the abuse they currently endure. The world needs to be educating on what these highly sentient animals are suffering. Thank you David Kirby for raising awareness.
Empty the tanks!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 24, 2013
Well written, thought provoking, sad and ultimately horrific. I've read some of the other reviews here, and first off you should know that I'm not going to respond to any comments about my review. You'll see why in a moment, when I express my final opinion.

David Kirby puts out so much information it made my eyes cross. He talks about research projects involving orcas over the years, he explains the normal life of an orca in the wild. It's a lot to take in. No surprise that Sea World trashed this book and the author. After all, he's a threat to their money making machine. Also not surprising that every accident is "trainer error", or the deaths of orcas are explained away as natural causes or disease related, even when the orcas go berserk and start slamming their heads against the concrete walls of their pools. While I have never worked at SeaWorld, I have worked at large corporations who sprout that same old tired "everything is happy-happy-happy out here in LaLa Land", so that SOP is very familiar to me.

I've always viewed animal shows as sad and creepy, and no, I don't belong to PETA or any other animal rights group. I've gone to the local zoo here and I've watched the animals, the chimps in particular, react to captivity. They are not happy campers. I saw one chimp mother react to a group of school kids on a field trip who tapped and pounded on the glass. Momma rose up and slammed on the glass with both hands. The glass vibrated; the kids scattered. And where were the adults, you may ask? Standing there grinning like fools. So much for adult supervision.

Keeping in mind that orcas are highly intelligent (smarter than a chimp? I have no idea), they have family units, are intelligent and used to a huge range in the wild, I can only guess how they would react to being captured, confined in a small space and forced to do tricks for us hairless apes. I know if somebody kidnapped me, took me away from my family and my life, I'd be pissed. Very pissed.

At one point in the book, after he kills Dawn Brancheau it was suggested that Tilikum be rehabbed like Keiko (Free Wily) was. By all accounts, in comparison, Keiko was a sweetheart. Once he even saved a child who fell into his pool, pushed the kid back up onto the ledge and patiently waited for the humans to arrive. I seriously doubt that Tilly would have done the same. That scene definitely wouldn't have ended well.

That said, the evidence of health and mental problems captive orcas face is staggering, and you can sugarcoat it all you want to, but they become warped because of what us humans do to them. One phrase that stuck with me was when someone mentioned that keeping those animals in captivity was only "building a psycho." That's an apt phrase. Tilikum is Sea World's cash cow. Their demented, psychotic cash cow. They won't dare put him down, even if he slaughters another trainer like he did the unfortunate Ms. Brancheau. She was scalped, her spinal cord was severed, part of her left arm was ripped off. She sustained massive injuries to her body, and as I remember in the autopsy report drowning was way down on the list. Sounds like Tilikum did more than just grab her ponytail and hold her under, like Sea World wants you to believe. I remember seeing her body draped in canvas after the attack. Tilikum was in the pool nearby. I saw that photo on CNN, but what I didn't know was Tilikum constantly raised his head out of the water, looking at her body as if he thought she was going to recover. That's the kind of detail Mr. Kirby delivers in this book.

I do believe that these beautiful creatures should be put down, all of them, because humans have damaged them beyond repair. The animal shows should stop. But because these captive orcas generate considerable revenue that's the one thing that's not gonna happen. And it should.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2012
Great book, wakeup call on the abuses to these majestic animals. The author educates the reader on orcas in the wild vs. captivity. Man is not capable of providing a natural environment for these large mammals in captivity. The book shows how the unnatural stresses have taken part in the many accidents at the marine parks around the world. Great Read.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2013
David Kirby's book on the controversy surrounding killer whales in captivity is informative, thorough and utterly engrossing. Contrary to what others may say, the information in the book is both well-presented and fair-balanced. Kirby effectively shows both sides of the captivity argument, and while at times his bias against captivity of these animals shows through, he is careful to include a great deal of commentary put forth by the leadership and employees of Seaworld. As a person who has a great interest in whales and marine life in general, I found that I could not put the book down and read it in a matter of days.

The primary theme outlined in Kirby's book is whether or not killer whales should be kept in captivity, based upon the behaviors and the danger that they posed to various trainers, including at least 3 tragic deaths. After absorbing much of what Kirby says, my opinion that these beautiful animals should not be in captivity was affirmed; however, one must see the other side of the argument in order to effectively appreciate the difficulties that Kirby's book so eloquently describes. Consider the following:

1. If killer whales had never started to be taken into captivity in the 1960s, then none of the negative consequences described in the book would have occurred. So in the beginning it was human greed that created this problem.

2. Once killer whales were taken into captivity, it became more difficult to reintegrate them into 'normal' whale society. Simply releasing them is not the answer. The book describes a valiant attempt to reintegrate Keiko into the natural Icelandic whale habitat, and the result was this whale's unfortunate death.

3. Since it is clear that SeaWorld always intended to keep these whales in captivity and engage them in performance-based shows, the question becomes this - did they really care for them well? Did they take care of them to the best of their ability, given the knowledge they possessed? Or were they truly exploiting them as some believe?

4. Once it became more clear that killer whales in captivity started to experience problematic behaviors and significant medical issues, did SeaWorld act appropriately? Could the injuries and deaths have been avoided, or were they to be expected because of the overwhelmingly negative impact that captivity had upon the whales?

There really are no right or wrong answers to the questions posed above, as it simply depends upon your opinion of what is described in the book. Just like in any argument, both sides think they are right, and the intensity with which the cast of characters in Kirby's book defends their position is both passionate and startling.

I would recommend that anyone who has an interest in marine life, and likes a well-written story, read David Kirby's wonderful book.
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