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on 17 July 2012
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. Dawn Brancheau's death in 2010 has inevitably fueled and agitated the debate even further between pro- and anti- captivity advocates.

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 ongoing misery that 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?

Two profound questions are presented in the Introduction of the 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).

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.

This review is an "excerpted" version from the original review which appeared on my blog Philosophybookreviews .
Disclosure: I would like to thank St. Martin's Press for providing me with a review copy of Death at SeaWorld.
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on 7 January 2013
Like many, my attention was grabbed by the story of Tilikum the Killer Whale in 2010 when he seemingly intentionally killed his trainer during a public event at Sea World Orlando. What I didn't know until later, and a theme that is explored thoroughly in David Kirby's excellent work is that it was the third death that could have been attributed to this particular whale, and one of a series that occured amongst Sea World whales in the same year.

What I especially liked about the book, is that David Kirby does have an opinion on whales in captivity, but he very clearly tries to explore all view points and all sides of the story. Sea World's views and pursuits are discussed rather than judged, as are those of the researchers involved with wild pods, the former trainers, the current trainers and so forth. Privacy is guarded and respected. Courage, rather than heroes is quietly championed. The pursuit of truth is far more prominent than the sensational aspects of the story, in fact they are very much a back story.

Respect is a key part of David Kirby's work here and is especially apparent in his steadfast approach to the whales situation and those who are trying to help them.

More than anything else, this is a gripping tale. I think the story needs to be shouted from the roof tops, but more than that, the story is a page turner that I couldn't put down. It opened my eyes further on something I thought I already knew a great deal about, and cemented my views on whales in captivity. It should be handed out to patrons as they enter Sea World!
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on 3 October 2013
Why are humans so cruel ? And why do we advocate certain cruelty acts to animals ?

David Kirby not only highlights the truths that go on in the animal entertainment industry but he also sticks his neck far beyond what others would do or say .

Watch Blackfish which accompanies this book and you will see the foolishness people will do to become stars if these so called trainers are that passionate about whales and dolphins surely studying these wonderful creatures in the wild would be more rewarding than teaching them tricks and completely stripping them of all dignity .

ex trainers say they didn't know of any captive whale attacks so that tells me if you're daft enough to go into a pool with a wild creature without researching first then are you really capable of anything remotely responsible.

Has anyone heard whales cries when their young are taken away from them maybe the bosses at seaworld should perhaps see for themselves mind you unless there are dollars attached to any act of business I am not sure they would care.

thank you David Kirby and to the makers of Blackfish
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on 1 October 2013
the best book I have ever read, will read again and again. david Kirkby has done an amazing job on this book and together with the people in it are changing the face of the captivity industry!
the orca winnie holds a dear place in my heart as it was due to her that I became obsessed with orcas, I was so happy to see her mentioned in the book but at the same time so sad, this book will challenge you views on captivity what ever they may be before you read it. not only does it show the love trainers have for the orcas they work with but also the events that can and have ended trainers and whales lives.
David Kirkby well done sir and I intended to tell you this in a privet messege on facebook as well.
I would recommend this book to any and everyone!
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on 11 July 2012
Take a large, charismatic big-toothed predator who also happens to be an intelligent social mammal, put them in concrete pools and make millions. To Sea World it was a corporate formula for success. Troubles, conflicts, disasters are more like it. Let David Kirby tell you the real story of Shamu in his new book...Highly recommended.
-- Erich Hoyt, Research Fellow, Whale and Dolphin Conservation; author of Orca: The Whale Called Killer and other books
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on 2 September 2014
You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that the only reason that dolphins and whales are kept in captivity is because the money that is generated out of their exploitation. Orcas are charismatic and awe-inspiring animals that captivate all those who see them - this is why people go to places like SeaWorld. However, there is no place in a civilised society where other beings that have the same right as humans to live peacefully on this planet are systematically subject to abuse for the sake of entertainment.

I have been aware of the issues surrounding the captivity of whales and dolphins for some time before reading Mr Kirby's book. I ordered the book wanting to know more about the plight of these animals and the psychological strain it puts on them. I found the book somewhat disappointing for the following reasons:

1. There is a lot of supporting evidence to back up the premise that keeping dolphins and whales in captivity cannot be justified, but I feel the `thriller' style of the book compromises the message that needs to be heard. The book essentially uses sensationalism, shock and horror to awaken the public (but sometimes, we need that).

2. The book also spends too much time on Naomi Rose. Great swathes of the early part of the book is spent on the life and ruminations of Naomi Rose and I was left wondering what role does this woman play in this book other than being a token orca researcher. There is little mention of other pioneering scientists in the field of wild orca research. In addition, I came to dislike Dr Rose as my reading progressed. This is not a reflection of the individual, but Mr Kirby's representation of her. She came across as a sanctimonious, arrogant person.

3. There is no continuity in the book. The chapters jump around on different topics. One moment you're reading about the incidents at SeaWorld and the next you're reading about Dr Rose's personal struggles.

4. There appears to be a lot of `artistic licence' used in this book. For example, I find it hard to believe that former SeaWorld trainers and others would remember verbatim conversations that occurred more than a decade ago.

This book had so much promise, but for me, it has failed to deliver. Marine parks must be stopped and only hard science and public opinion will sway the legislators. Mr Kirby had the ammunition, but people who are not familiar with the research and the plight of orcas will only read the sensational bits and not grasp the bigger picture.

Notwithstanding my comments, the book is a valuable source of information and adds o the argument that these creatures must be released.
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on 8 December 2013
Some great positive reviews by many about this book. But then there are some negative comments, in defence of seaworld. What's the matter? Does the truth hurt? Tell you what! Lets shove you in a small bath, switch the cameras on, and ask you to perform tricks with a snorkel and mask. And then, and only then, you will get fed. I'm sure we'd all love to be taken away from our family, and loved ones, to be stuck in a tank for the duration. Also, how on earth can seaworld claim they are so knowledgeable, and fully clued up on these creatures? Does a killer whale speak English? If I was to be honest. It's wreckless behaviour on behalf of seaworld, for financial gain. You play with fire, and you get burnt! Great book, and a wake up call to reality!
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on 14 January 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.
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on 26 December 2012
Another great book,a look behind the dark side of Seaworld not Killer Whales.They need to be free not there for our amusement it is not natural for them,or any other Marine Mammals.
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on 4 March 2014
5 stars for content, a must read for any person who has been involved in the captivity debate. While Blackfish touches on a lot of these issues there is a lot of additional information in here that you will want to know. The writing style is not for me, it jumps around a bit and is sometimes a little bit overly colloquial and occasionally you have the impression that some specific quotes were dumbed down a bit for effect (or I would hope so!), nevertheless, overall the message is very strong and it brings to light a number of things I was unaware off despite having been following the captivity debate for a long time. as mentioned by another reviewer, there is a lot about Naomi Rose in here which did not necessarily need to be included, while I would be interested in reading about Rose's research separately, this is not what the book set out to do so some of it could have been omitted.
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