David Kirby and Death at SeaWorld
By Mark J. Palmer
International Marine Mammal Project
Earth Island Institute
Last week in China, tourists reported an extraordinary sight – a mother dolphin was carrying its dead baby around on the surface, as if hoping to bring it back to life and mourning its passage.
Last night in San Francisco, author David Kirby invoked similar feelings in a crowd of seventy people who came to hear him speak about his new book Death at SeaWorld. The event was hosted by Earth Island Institute and the book’s publisher St. Martin’s Press.
Kirby noted he first became interested in the issue when he heard about the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, pulled underwater and killed by an orca named Tilikum. He discovered a much deeper story of trainer deaths and, especially, deaths of captive orcas. All, he said, died horribly.
Kirby also made contact with Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal biologist who has been in the forefront of efforts to stop the keeping of orcas and dolphins in captivity for the Humane Society of the United States. Rose studied wild orcas for many years and uses her research expertise in explaining why orcas do not belong in captivity.
Also important to the story were several trainers who quit working at SeaWorld and came out publicly against the programs they originally were hired to serve.
Kirby describes the host of problems that beset orcas in captivity. Wild orcas cannot drink seawater, but get their water from the fish they eat. In captivity, orcas are fed dead fish that have been frozen and then thawed, losing most of their moisture. Orcas have to be fed immense amounts of gelatin to replace water they lose, just to keep them hydrated.
Orcas often break teeth in chewing on the concrete sides and metal gates in their marine park homes, resulting in serious infections if not treated. But orcas cannot be anesthetized like humans – they need to be awake in order to breath. So dental work has to be done on the wide awake orca, drilling out the pulp from the teeth to prevent a lethal infection.
Kirby also showed a video he released to the media that came out during the SeaWorld investigation following the death of Brancheau. The video was from an incident in 2006, covered up by SeaWorld, in which an orca seized the foot of a trainer and almost drowned him. Kirby noted that the female orca had been separated from her calf and forced to perform – the orca turned on her trainer when she heard the calf calling from another tank.
Orcas in tanks are ticking time bombs for the trainers. Orcas in the wild virtually never attack humans. But they do in captivity. Kirby points out that orcas have a death rate in captivity two and a half times higher than orcas in the wild.
Kirby says he came to the research for the book as neither pro- or anti-captivity for orcas, but he now supports retiring all orcas to sea pens, with potentially some of them being released back into the wild. This has been done by Earth Island Institute and the Humane Society with Keiko, and it can be done again.
Copies of Death at SeaWorld are now in bookstores and online. For further information: http://deathatseaworld.com/
And while you are shopping for good summer reads, pick up a copy of Ric O’Barry’s new edition of his book Behind the Dolphin Smile. http://www.ecojoia.com/index.php/stores/product-detail-hat/dp/311
Photo of Earth Island Panel discussion
with David Kirby by Kevin Connelly.
Quick Ways to Help
* Sign the petition HERE to tell world leaders to Stop the Japan Dolphin Slaughter.
* Block the sale of dolphins from the Solomon Islands to China. Send an e-mail to Solomon Islands Prime Minister Danny Philip firstname.lastname@example.org
*Click Here to Join the Ric O'Barry Dolphin Project Facebook Page.
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