A few weeks ago I posted about meeting David Kirby, author of Death at Sea World and Naomi Rose, the book's "main character". If you missed it, you can find that post HERE
Due to the craziness of the holiday season and the start of the Ocean Advocates blog, it has taken me a while to finish reading it.
Death at SeaWorld chronicles Naomi's life, from her childhood up through her current work. Naomi is responsible for much of the research known about orcas in captivity. David explains much of her research in the book, including her dissertation on the social dynamics of male killer whales. Her first job working with Humane Society International started with the push of bringing captivity issues into the public eye following the release of the popular Free Willy movie. Naomi has also been pivotal in other work including the eventual release of Keiko (AKA "Willy"), advocating for the SeaWorld whales and the recent OSHA hearing.
Death at SeaWorld then alternates to take an amazing look inside the horrific world of captivity and the history of many of the orcas kept there and other parks. The book delves into the behind the scenes "off behavior" episodes that not only never made it into the public eye, but were often kept hidden from the very trainers that risk their lives every day working with the whales.
Former trainers including Jeff Ventre, Samantha Berg and Carol Ray give an inside look at some of these incidents behind the scenes. Missing information in incident reports and animal profiles, SeaWorld's pressure and pursuations, etc. As a former season ticket holder who dreamed of becoming a whale trainer at one time, these stories were appalling!
Of course, the main story in Death at SeaWorld is the horrific death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 by Tillikum, AKA Tilly. The book details Tillikum's capture from Iceland, as well as his aggressive past. Tilly was first held in Sea Land of the Pacific where he killed his first trainer, Keltie Byrne, in 1991. He was brought to SeaWorld Orlando via an emergency importation permit in January 1992. Trainers were not made aware of how dangerous he was. They were taught or programmed to think that it was their fault any time any whale went "off behavior". Details of Daniel Dukes, the second fatality caused by Tilly in 1999, were also included.
Death at SeaWorld exposes some awful truths and the research behind them. It will definitely change your mind about ever going to see another whale (or dolphin) show again, at least I hope it will.
For more information, check out David's site HERE