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A Significant and Authentic Account of Killer Whales in Captivity and Beyond...
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.