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Below are some selected reviews:
Kristen Hannum‘s review -Jul 03, 12
I didn’t expect to like this book – which came to me via Goodreads’ firstreads program. I put off reading it, wondering what I’d been thinking. I knew it would be depressing. And it’s long.
I skipped the introduction, going straight to the prologue. (Why would a book need both an introduction and a prologue?) And I was hooked. It began with a young trainer in British Columbia dying as three killer whales dragged her underwater, roughed her up, and drowned her. This provides for suspense throughout the book, because you know that one of those three whales, Tillicum, will kill two other people in SeaWorld Orlando.
Death at Sea World is the compelling story of the young biologist Naomi Rose, and how she spent a decade studying whales in the wild, in particular killer whales, orcas. She learned from the best on the Northwest coast of Canada, just west of Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. She wrote her PhD dissertation building upon her mentor’s work in sociobiology and the orca experts’ already published observations of the whales in the wild. Her dissertation was on male killer whales’ place in killer whale cultures – subdominant to the females.
Orca society, just like human society, is built around the nuclear family… except with orcas, mom is in charge. Her sons stay with her as long as she lives. They babysit their younger siblings for her, and they work out their excess testosterone with games not that different from football. The oldest mom observed, “Granny,” was about 85 at the last time I came across her. (I’m about four-fifths through.) She’s going strong. So there’s the nature part of the book, where there’s actually a lot to learn about whales.
The second big chunk of the book is following Jeff, a “trainer” at SeaWorld. He starts out loving SeaWorld, but it gradually dawning on him that the orcas are suffering just as you would suffer if aliens stole you from your home, confined you in too small a space, and fed you when you did tricks for a crowd. The past decade’s revelation of girls kidnapped and confined like that isn’t too different.
A third chunk of the book is following the orcas themselves, in particular Keiko, of Free Willy fame, his horrible treatment and the games that were played in trying to free him.
Naomi is hired by the Humane Society of the United States, a mainstream group that is vilified by SeaWorld because their stance is that it’s not appropriate to keep orcas in such small pens, ripped away from their families and forced to perform for crowds. Orcas are too intelligent – they understand that they’re captives. They are self-aware, and become psychotic with sorrow and boredom.
Kristina‘s review– Jun 30, 12
This is long, so first off… A friend of mine wanted me to narrow this down to three words, so here you go: Read the book!
Before a riot starts on the thread of this review, I would like to say, SeaWorld, its supporters, and others in the animal theme park community will tell you not to read this book, that it is one-sided, disrespectful to Dawn Brancheau’s memory, and the author is not an expert on the subject of marine animals. They are correct. The book is mostly one-sided, however as noted in the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, David Kirby asked numerous display industry representatives for their input in the book (including Sea World) and they all declined. Despite this, I spotted many times in the book where Kirby tried to give Sea World credit for one thing or another (including an educational manatee exhibit, a beautifully designed aquarium, animal rescues, and grants for habitat restoration, but the issue at hand is killer whales in captivity) . Where Dawn is concerned, she is not often mentioned in the book. There is once chapter that focuses mostly on her, but other than that she is mentioned only occasionally. If anything, this book does more for her memory than Sea World has by claiming that there are risks to keeping these killer whales captive and that changes need to be made, while Sea World blames Dawn for what happened. On the note of Kirby not being an expert in marine animals, he never claimed to be. David Kirby was an investigative reporter who contributed to the New York Times among other publications. As an investigative reporter, he reached out to those who are experts in the field of marine animals and to those who offered a small look inside Sea World from former trainers at Sea World. That being said…
I have always been a lover of animals and although I have loved the experience of seeing animals up close in zoos and places like SeaWorld, I have always questioned the ethics of it. Also, I am a history major in college. People studying history generally love research, verifiable evidence, and sources. While reading the book I was constantly looking up videos, articles, and interviews mentioned in the book to get an even bigger view of the picture David Kirby was presenting. I also poured through Sea World’s website and Facebook page.
Death at Sea World is a well written narrative of not only the unfortunate incident of February 24, 2010, but of the history of orca research and orcas in captivity as well as the reactions to the events of that day on both sides of the debate. It is written so well, I often became so absorbed that I didn’t want to work or sleep, just so that I could keep reading. It isn’t bogged down like many non-fiction books become with statistics and dates to remember (this coming from a history major), but flows easily by following the lives those who have been vital to the issue of orca in captivity and their struggles to get legislation passed to protect the animals and the resistance they have met in that battle.
After reading this book, I am compelled to become an advocate not only against zoos and animal theme parks, but also an advocate of getting people to read this book. It has also appalled me at how far companies will go to make money, and how far legislation will go to ensure the cash flow keeps coming. For a company to argue that people with PhDs and decades of years in the field are “not experts” when speaking out against Sea World is quite frankly ridiculous. The only way I can wrap my head around their train of thought when making this claim is that these PhD scientists and advocates are not experts in jailing large, intelligent, wild animals in small, bland, non-stimulating environments, and I suppose they are correct, which is the whole point. These animals were not meant to be pulled from their mothers so young (and in the case of males, probably ever), put into such confined spaces, forced into artificial pods with other unknown orca, fed dead fish infused with vitamins and medicines that they would not need in the wild, and impregnated over and over again at ages unheard of in their natural habitat.
Suzanne Carlson‘s review –Jul 02, 12
Superb, simply superb. Kirby digs beneath SeaWorld’s public relations spin and uncovers both a culture of entrenched cruelty and disregard for employee safety. Credit due for repeatedly trying to get SeaWorld’s side of the story — to no avail.
Kirby provides the scientific arguments against keeping these huge marine mammals in cramped tanks, but draws the reader into the emotional connection we should have with these keenly intelligent animals. It’s such a thought-provoking read!
After reading this book, there’s no way anyone could ever buy a ticket to a marine theme park again. The price to the orcas is far too high.