David Kirby is the New York Times bestselling author of Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic and Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment. A professional journalist for over 15 years, controversy swells over his investigative reporting with his latest exposé.
Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity takes a look inside the battle with the marine park industry over the controversial and even lethal ramifications of keeping whales in captivity. Introducing us to marine biologist and animal advocate at the Humane Society of the United States, Naomi Rose, Kirby tells the riveting story of the two-decade fight against SeaWorld, which erupted to new heights with the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
Brancheau’s death was the most reported incident amid several attacks that have occurred at Sea World and other marine theme parks.
Death at SeaWorld uses the real people involved directly in the issue to take part in the debate- from former trainers turned animal rights activists, to the public relations pundits for SeaWorld that defend the captivity of whales for use as human entertainment.
As orca attacks on trainers become increasingly violent, the warnings of Rose and other scientists fall on deaf ears, only to be realized with Brancheau’s death. Kirby covers the media backlash, the eyewitnesses who come forward to refute SeaWorld’s PR spin, and the groundbreaking OSHA case that challenged the idea of keeping these whales in captivity.
But, as with many books that expose the light of truth, there are those who wish for the public to remain uninformed and in the dark. So it is that Death at Seaworld joins the growing list of books to have its publication and distribution challenged in America. The interesting part is that this book isn’t even scheduled to be released until July 17, 2012 and since it wasn’t even finished until February, 2012, when the final draft was submitted to the publisher, none of those who oppose it have actually read it.
Supporters of Seaworld point out that before marine parks people knew little about these creatures of the sea; and since many people cannot easily experience whales in the wild, the parks provide a way to learn more about their social behaviors. The quest for scientific knowledge may be a noble one, worthy of pursuit, but this is a thinly-veiled smokescreen for a means of entertainment. Let’s be honest here. How many readers out there go to Seaworld for scientific exploration, and how many go just to see these majestic animals perform stupid pet tricks and get the kids a Shamu plush? Whatever their “scientific mission” may be, in the end these are still theme parks, designed for public entertainment.
Last September Seaworld officials appeared in a Florida court to face a \”willful neglect\” violation and a $75,000 fine in Brancheau\’s death. Trainers have not been allowed to perform in the water with whales since her death.
Opponents to the book’s release say that Kirby is attempting to profit from these deaths by selling books. Kirby’s novels have consistently shown the unethical treatment of animals that do not have a voice or a choice in their captivity. As humans we have a choice whether or not to perform tasks for others, and to entertain. Just as with the tigers used by Siegfried and Roy, the highly-publicized attack that almost took Roy’s life shows that as much as we think we may know about wild animals, they are still wild animals and react as much on instinct as they do on the silly tricks we teach them.
Brancheau was the fourth person to die from an attack by a captive whale. Dozens more have been injured in parks since their existence, some of those were serious and potentially life threatening. There has been only one known case of an orca whale injuring a human in the wild in all of recorded history, and that incident did not result in a death to either party. The whale, which most likely mistook a surfer in a wetsuit for a seal, quickly released him.
There is an online petition created by supporters of Seaworld and hosted by Care2 that aims to force bookstores and retailers to neither promote nor sell Death at Seaworld. To date the site has received only 270 signatures, a far cry from their goal of 10,000. The creators feel that Kirby is using the tragedy of these deaths solely to profit from them. The goal of the petition is, as stated on the site, “to question the morals and ethics of the author and the people he profiled in the book,” and to “have the book be kept off of bookstores and online shops out of all grounds regarding the questionable morals of the author and his use of using a trainer\’s death to gain profit without the consent of Dawn\’s family.” They further claim that his book is entirely one-sided against Seaworld. Again, how could they know this since it hasn’t even been released yet and no one outside of the publisher has seen the final draft?
The part that disturbs me the most is in the very last line of the petition. A “disclaimer” that states, “This petition does not aim to censor the book in any way.” But the fact of the matter is that a demand that any medium not be sold or distributed is, by its very definition and practice, a form of censorship.
Digital Journal interviewed Kirby in February about the controversy surrounding his, as yet, unpublished book. It is well worth additional reading and can be viewed here.
For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html
Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, CNN, Huffington Post, Digital Journal
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions