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Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity

January 27, 2012

In what is sure to be a blockbuster best-selling book, author and journalist David Kirby introduces his latest investigative venture “Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity” (St. Martin’s Press), hit book stands July 17, 2012.

Prominently previewed in the Library Journal and nominated by St. Martin’s Press for the Columbia School of Journalism’s 2012 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress AwardDeath at SeaWorld takes a look at the often secretive and much maligned practice of keeping the ocean’s top predators in captivity for entertainment purposes.

Spawned by the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010— the legal, ethical, health, and safety ramifications of orca captivity and display have been thrust into the limelight in the media, in courtrooms, as well as in the chambers of Congress.

David dives into the numerous and varied issues as they play out in public arenas amidst the backdrop of the ongoing legal battle pitting OSHA against the multimillion-dollar marine park following the veteran trainer’s brutal death by Tilikum, the 12,000 lb (5,440 kg) orca.

The award winning author takes readers on a journey from the perspective of marine park supporters and debunkers alike as the decades-old debate of keeping these large, intelligent, sentient beings in featureless, concrete confines unfolds.

The future of the industry is at stake. The outlook for trainer safety is unknown… and the lives of numerous captive killer whales hang in the balance.

What will the future bring?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Evidence of Harm and Animal Factory— a groundbreaking scientific thriller that exposes the dark side of SeaWorld, America’s most beloved marine mammal park.

Author David Kirby ~ “Death at SeaWorld”

Death at SeaWorld centers on the battle with the multimillion-dollar marine park industry over the controversial and even lethal ramifications of keeping killer whales in captivity. Following the story of marine biologist and animal advocate at the Humane Society of the US, Naomi Rose, Kirby tells the gripping story of the two-decade fight against PR-savvy SeaWorld, which came to a head with the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Kirby puts that horrific animal-on-human attack in context. Brancheau’s death was the most publicized among several brutal attacks that have occurred at Sea World and other marine mammal theme parks.

Death at SeaWorld introduces real people taking part in this debate, from former trainers turned animal rights activists to the men and women that champion SeaWorld and the captivity of whales. In section two the orcas act out. And as the story progresses and orca attacks on trainers become increasingly violent, the warnings of Naomi Rose and other scientists fall on deaf ears, only to be realized with the death of Dawn Brancheau. Finally he covers the media backlash, the eyewitnesses who come forward to challenge SeaWorld’s glossy image, and the groundbreaking OSHA case that challenges the very idea of keeping killer whales in captivity and may spell the end of having trainers in the water with the ocean’s top predators.  ~

RELEASE DATE: July 17, 2012 (in the U.S, the U.K., and CANADA)


Purchase at The Orca Project Store or use any of the links below and a small portion of the proceedes will help support our work at The Orca Project: , Barnes and , iTunes , Indie Bound.
(Available in Hard-Cover and for download for your Kindle, iPhone, iPad, iPadTouch and eBook)

CANADA: Distribution by Raincoast Books and is now available for order at and

U.K.: Distribution by Melia Publishing Services and is now available for order at

FOLLOW DEATH AT SEAWORLD on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER: @DeathAtSeaWorld and on the web

PRESS MATERIALS: An official press package can be viewed/downloaded by visiting the Voice of the Orcas website HERE.  A web-version of the press materials can also be seen at the Marine Connection website HERE.

July 17, 2012 – RADIO – Author David Kirby will join the Armstrong and Getty Show KKSF 910 AM San Francisco; KSTE 650 AM Sacramento 7:45am Pacific /10:45am Eastern. Listen online HERE.

LAUNCH DAY – July 17, 2012 – NEW YORK, NY – Join author David Kirby and Naomi Rose, Senior Scientsist with the Humane Society of the US for a reading and book signing as Death at SeaWorld makes its debut at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in the Tribeca neighborhood of Lower Manhattan in New York City. The event will begin at 6:00 p.m. with an after-party to follow (location T.B.D.)

July 20, 2012 – SAN JUAN ISLAND, WA – 5:00-7:30 PM – Presentation, book signing and panel discussion with author David Kirby, Naomi Rose, Senior Scientsist with the Humane Society of the US, and three former SeaWorld orca trainers, Jeff Ventre, Carol Ray and Samantha Berg. Friday Harbor House, 130 West Street Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, WA 98250 (866) 722-7356.

July 23, 2012 – SEATTLE, WA – 7:30-10:00 PM – Presentation, book signing and panel discussion with author David Kirby, Naomi Rose -HSUS, and three former SeaWorld orca trainers, Jeff Ventre, Carol Ray and Samantha Berg. Sponsored by The Orca Network and the American Cetacean Society, Puget Sound Chapter. The Mountaineers Club, 7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115

July 25, 2012 – RADIO – Tampa, FL – 11:00 AM Eastern Time. David will be Live for the on-air broadcast of “Talking Animals” on WMFN 88.5 FM Tampa. Listen to broadcast live online HERE.

July 25, 2012 – SAN FRANCISCO, CA – 7:00-9:00 PM – Presentation and book signing with author David Kirby. Sponsored by Earth Island Institute, International Marine Mammal Project. Hosted and moderated by KALW Your Call’s Rose Aguilar. The Hub, 901 Mission Street, Suite 105, San Francisco, CA (415) 624-5881

November 10, 2012 – SAN DIEGO, CA – (time to be announced) – Presentation and book signing with author David Kirby at the American Cetacean Society 13th International Conference: Whales & Humans: A Conflicted Relationship

Other events tentatively planned:
July 2012:

RADIO – The Marc Steiner Show, WEAA FM 88.9 FM, BALTIMORE

RADIO – Your Call with Rose Aguilar, KALW FM, SAN FRANCISCO

September/October 2012:

ATLANTA, GA – Lecture at the Center for Ethics, Emory University, with guest Lori Marino, PhD, Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, Emory University

ORLANDO, FL – Presentation and book signing with Naomi Rose, HSUS

MIAMI, FL – Presentation and book signing

WASHINGTON, DC – Presentation and panel discussion with Naomi Rose of HSUS, and possibly Courtney Vail of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and others

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NY – Presentation, sponsored by Scuba Club of Westchester

BOSTON, MA – Presentation and book signing, sponsored by the American Cetacean Society, Massachusetts Chapter

MYSTIC, CN – Lecture, sponsored by Cetacean Society International

David Kirby is the author of Evidence of Harm, which was a New York Times bestseller, winner of the 2005 Investigative Reporters and Editors award for best book, and a finalist for the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, and Animal Factory, an acclaimed investigation into the environmental impact of factory farms. His Discover Magazine article Made in China: Our Toxic, Imported Air Pollution will be included The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012 available October 2012. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

DAVID KIRBY on his book and SEAWORLD:
On February 26, 2011 author and journalist, David Kirby, appeared on Fox News to discuss the negative effects of orca captivity:

The above video can also be viewed on the Fox News website HERE.

David is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and also made several appearances on CNN’s AC360 with Anderson Cooper to discuss the OSHA vs SeaWorld hearings. Those appearances were broadcast on September 19, 21 & 22, 2011.

Listen to David Kirby on National Public Radio’s Orlando affilliate WMFE 90.7 FM which was broadcast on January 31, 2012. David joined a panel including former SeaWorld trainer John Jett, PhD to discuss how SeaWorld will move forward following the death of Dawn Brancheau and what the future holds for the marine park’s “Shamu” shows. Listen anytime to the archived broadcast by clicking HERE.


“The controversial topic of orcas in captivity is thoroughly examined in a gripping inspection of the biggest keeper of killer whales, SeaWorld… Hard to put down.”
~ Nancy Bent, American Library Association Booklist

“This is 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.  And he personalizes it for us.  Many of us have a deep appreciation of, and a deep compassion for, animals; and those whose favorite animals are killer whales are perhaps at the deepest end of the spectrum.  Maybe someday Death at SeaWorld will be translated into whale-speak and broadcast throughout the oceans, seeking forgiveness.  Until then, our actions must speak for ourselves.”
~ Ken Balcomb, Director, Center for Whale Research, Friday Harbor, WA

“Killer whales, like chimpanzees, are highly intelligent and intensely social creatures, forming close emotional bonds between family and group members. I have watched them leap in the freedom of the ocean and feel deeply saddened and angered to see them in cruel captivity, swimming endlessly and hopelessly around their sterile concrete prisons. 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.”
~ Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE.  Founder — the Jane Goodall Institute,  United Nations Messenger of Peace

“Death at SeaWorld will become one of the most pivotal books in the orca captivity debate for years to come, and may well be the catalyst we have all been waiting for towards seeing an end to this cruelty.  At last, both sides of the story behind the events at SeaWorld are being told and the truth is finally getting out there.  Every budding orca trainer should consider this the must-read book of their career.”
~ Dr. Ingrid N. Visser, Founder & Principal Scientist, Orca Research Trust

“This is a book everyone should read. If you care about orcas that are in captivity, this book shows why you should not be buying tickets to aquariums with captive orcas and should not support these organizations.  David Kirby’s Death at SeaWorld outlines in grim detail just how bad captivity is for orcas and other marine mammals.”
 ~ Richard “Ric” O’Barry, Director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project and star of the Oscar® Award-winning documentary, “The Cove”.

“Entertaining, engaging and enraging – The fairy tale fantasy that the captive dolphin industry has spun for the unwary public is expertly unraveled in this non-fiction crime thriller.  Animal advocate Naomi Rose, who has lived in the wild with killer whales, is the real-life heroine in the battle against the tragedy known as the captive dolphin industry.  A killer whale, never known to harm a human in the wild, more social than us, with a brain much larger than ours, is captured, torn from his mother in Iceland and forced to do tricks in Florida.  The unnatural existence turns him into a serial killer wreaking havoc in Americas’ best known captive entertainment facilities.  You can’t make this stuff up – instead of closing down the industry, human trainers masturbate this orca and other bulls, whose spawn continues to spread mayhem, killing and maiming unwitting animal trainers as far away as the Canary Islands.  But the real killer is the industry itself, the hired flacks, corporate-greed heads and politicians who willingly cover-up the rap sheets that should have had the captive industry in lock–down decades ago.”
 ~ Louie Psihoyos, Oscar® Award Winning Director of “The Cove”

SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death in 2010 after being attacked by a killer whale made headlines, but the story goes deeper.  As Kirby shows, marine biologist and animal advocate Naomi Rose had already spent two decades challenging SeaWorld’s captivity of killer whales as dangerous to both whales and humans, and the attack on Brancheau was just one of many that have occurred at marine mammal parks nationwide.  Lives are at stake here, and Kirby can be trusted to tell the story, having won a passel of awards for his investigative work in “Evidence of Harm”.
~ Library Journal

“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.  Focusing on killer whales, the well-known black-and-white icons of life in the sea, David Kirby systematically dismantles every single argument used to justify keeping these incredibly intelligent and sentient beings in the aquatic cages in which they’re jammed solely for profit at the expense of their very lives and those of other animals including humans.  If you ever questioned whether or not places like SeaWorld should exist, I trust you will now answer with a resounding ‘NO!’
~ Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals” and The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons For Expanding Our Compassion Footprint”

“In this authoritative and superbly investigative page-turner, certain to ruffle feathers and fins, David Kirby traces the tale of scientist-conservationist Naomi Rose pitted against SeaWorld bent on turning a charismatic, intelligent, big-toothed predator — the killer whale, or orca — into its corporate brand.  Kirby reports brilliantly on the escalating troubles and conflicts, the surprising and sordid underbelly of life — and death — at SeaWorld.”
~ Erich Hoyt, author of the best-selling classic Orca: The Whale Called Killer” and Research Fellow, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

“It is sad that this book had to be inspired by the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, but David Kirby has revealed the true heart of this fascinating story of the killer whale, the largest of the dolphins.  Accurately, passionately, lovingly and unapologetically, he tells the orcas’ story, but we also meet the humans who have captured them, studied them, trained them, exhibited them, and tried to understand what the author calls (after humans), “the most socially and ecologically complex animals on earth.”  This remarkable book deserves to be acknowledged as the most significant and moving account of the often disastrous interaction of cetaceans and humans since “Moby-Dick”.”
~ Richard Ellis, author of Men and Whales”, “The Empty Ocean”, and “The Great Sperm Whale”

“Kirby’s exhaustively researched chronicle offers the definitive look at its subject, coming down squarely on (Naomi) Rose’s side to conclude that the human use of orcas for entertainment does neither species any favors.”
~ Publishers Weekly

“This book takes you where most have never been before – inside the nightmare world of the marine mammal captivity industry. David Kirby’s research is impeccable and his words unforgettable. You will never view dolphin and orca shows the same way again.”
~ Lori Marino, PhD, Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, Emory University

“People need cogent, compellingly written explanations of what really goes on at SeaWorld – and this book will deliver.”
~ Candace Calloway Whiting, Seattle Post Intelligencer

Best picks for summer reading.
~ Columbus Dispatch

#1 Readers Poll Choice for Summer Books
~ Wall Street Journal Online

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa permalink
    November 4, 2013 9:21 am

    Thank you David Kirby and OSHA!!!! Shame on you SeaWorld, do the right thing and free those beautiful creatures!!!

  2. Tiffany arantz permalink
    October 25, 2013 11:32 am

    I watched black fish and I’m appalled by what I saw. I no longer want to even go to sea world anymore and I loved that place! They are just using that whale to breed he doesn’t even get the joy of being with a female breeding. They are stealing his semen and implanting it. I am disgusted and just feel like balling. These whales are a miracle and are being treated like crap. Especially taking that baby from the mother and sea world letting her ball for days screaming out searching for her baby is just so sad. I can’t imagine. I wish there was something I could do!!!!

  3. April 30, 2013 11:35 am

    Hi there! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website
    with us so I came to look it over. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my
    followers! Excellent blog and amazing design.

  4. February 18, 2013 1:31 am

    I NEVER leave comments on blogs, but I have never become so passionate about a cause. I just finished David’s book and have been obsessed with the welfare of Tilikum, along with all other whales who have been abused for public display. I live in San Diego and will not allow my children to go to Sea World field trips and this book will be passed on to other parents who think I am over-reacting when I tell them my son and daughter will be taken on a whale watching tour with their mom and dad instead. My children will be viewing whales in their natural habitat while the other children are receiving misinformation and inadvertently supporting the demise of one of the oldest mammals on earth. Here’s to being informed! I am anxiously awaiting “Blackfish” so I can circulate that bit of reality as well. Mindi

  5. August 1, 2012 1:01 am

    I just typed in Tilikum (sp) into wikipedia and was sickened by the horrible terrible falsehoods listed. Mostly things that were left out and glossed over. I bought the Death at SeaWorld on Kindle and at 82% my Kindle suddenly died. I have a replacement on order but that doesnt deter me from what I knew as a child growing up in FLA and a terminal visitor of SeaWorld. My main ??? from the 70s..why isnt the dorsal fin upright? I had seen orcas in the open sea. There MUST be a reason why…never an answer. That book was an eye and heart opener and I will finish it…Kindle be damned!

  6. freetilikum permalink
    July 19, 2012 1:07 pm

    Almost done with “Death at seaworld” . Love the book and …. I never knew colleen gorman formed T.O.P .

  7. Rob permalink
    May 25, 2012 9:42 pm

    I’ve ordered three copies of the book from a local independent bookseller.

    As I understand it, 4 people have been killed by circus whales. Two of the 4 at SeaWorld parks. No doubt, there have been mishaps and injuries that have gone unreported.

    Many of the cetaceans that live in the park have become so damaged by their SeaWorld experience that some say they couldn’t be expected to function normally in the natural environment.

    SeaWorld isn’t above taking some criticism. They’re selling fantasy and escapism—not curing cancer.

  8. Constantine permalink
    January 27, 2012 8:27 pm

    Will check this out when it’s out, thanks for posting! 🙂

  9. January 27, 2012 12:46 pm

    I’ll be ordering an advanced copy of this for sure. I hope that we can change more people’s minds about how “family appropriate” these shows really are.


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