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Deaths at SeaWorld: Animals are Dying to Entertain In this S

A new book about the horrors at SeaWorld deserves wide readership

Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity by David Kirby is an outstanding book. I titled this short essay "Deaths at SeaWorld" because in fact, many animals, human and nonhuman, have died at this "carefully managed facade." Death at SeaWorld is one of the most important books, if not the most important book, ever written on the horrific plight of captive cetaceans. Kirby systematically dismantles the arguments used to justify keeping these incredibly intelligent and sentient beings in aquatic cages.

The praise for award-winning investigative journalist David Kirby's book is outstanding and comes from well-recognized animal advocates and also from places that often remain neutral on issues of animal abuse and animal protection. For example, renowned primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall wrote, “As David Kirby so eloquently documents in this timely work, killer-whale captivity only benefits the captors. It is impossible to read ‘Death at SeaWorld’ and come to any other conclusion.” Louie Psihoyos, Academy Award winning director of The Cove wrote, "Entertaining, engaging and enraging—The fairy tale fantasy that the captivity marine mammal industry has spun for the unwary public is expertly unraveled in this non-fiction crime thriller." And Ken Balcomb, Director, Center for Whale Research, exclaimed, “One helluva book! David Kirby provides the most complete and accurate account of what I perceive as a transgression of morality toward the animal kingdom—the slavery of orcas, supreme beings in the aquatic world.”

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Consider also what reviewers for main stream press wrote: #1 Readers Poll Choice for Summer Books—Wall Street Journal Online; One of the “great books” of the summer—The Columbus Dispatch; “Lives are at stake here, and Kirby can be trusted to tell the story, having won a passel of awards for his investigative work.”—Library Journal.

It's rare for such a book to get wide-ranging unqualified support from such a diverse audience. This is because this book is very-well written, extremely well documented, and timely. 

In a nutshell, Kirby, a New York Times bestselling author, exposes the darkside of SeaWorld's treatment of animals, focusing on killer whales or orcas, and shows clearly that numerous animals at SeaWorld have been and are horrifically abused and chronically stressed. They're force-fed antibiotics, vitamins, and antacids, have their teeth removed with power drills and left to mourn on their own after having their young taken away from them, and masturbated for sperm. Most die in their teens and twenties, far younger than their wild relatives, and around 15 percent of all orcas held in collections in SeaWorld have been involved in serious acts of aggression against trainers. To date there are no records of orcas seriously injuring or killing a person. Trainers are also kept ignorant of risks and there's poor record keeping. For example, "minor" behavioral issues such as whales mounting trainers that frequently result in injury go unreported. Indeed, in 2010 SeaWorld was fined $75,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for three safety violations, including one classified as willful, after an animal trainer was previously killed. 

SeaWorld is a SeaJail and a whale mill

In a discussion of the egregious practices of SeaWorld, I wrote an earlier essay called "Tilly's Willy" in which I recounted the story of how this awesome being was repeatedly masturbated so that his sperm could be used to make more orcas. We now know that many of his descendants are kept at SeaWorld to breed, often with one another, as if they're living in a "whale mill."

What good does SeaWorld do? Very little, as there's no evidence that they or other zoos make any meaningful contribution to education or conservation. SeaWorld conducts little scientific research and does little or nothing for the conservation of wild orcas. 

SeaWorld is really a SeaJail and a whale mill and should be ashamed of how they keep highly sentient beings and for continuing to deceive an unknowing public about what they really do and why they do it. Simply put, SeaWorld abuses amazing animals, forces them to breed and perform stupid and unnatural tricks, and doesn't allow them to retire, all in the name of money. They've been caught and fined before and let's hope that this careful scrutiny continues. 

The teaser image of wild orcas can be seen here and you can listen to an interview with David Kirby here.

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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