Author visits Somersworth to talk about captive whales
By JOHN QUINN
Union Leader Correspondent | October 07. 2012 9:07PM
About a dozen people stopped by the home of Barbara and Bruce Lovett Saturday to hear from David Kirby who wrote “Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity.”
Barbara Lovett said they hope to promote the release of captive animals, especially whales and dolphins – which she feels are both sentient beings.
“We wanted to do something to help,” she said.
Kirby, a journalist who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., said he decided to write about issues with captivity following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau by a 12,500-pound killer whale named Tilikum at SeaWorld in Orlando in 2010.
Kirby remembers feeling sorry for the trainer, but was also sympathetic to the whale afterwards.
“There are scenes which will just break your heart,” Kirby said.
He previously wrote “Animal Factory” in 2010 about a salmonella outbreak and “Evidence of Harm” in 2005 about vaccines and autism. All three of his books have been published by St. Martin’s Press.
One of the main people highlighted in this book, Naomi Rose of Humane Society International, is a New Hampshire native, Kirby said.
Kirby said he wrote about Rose researching whales off the San Juan Islands near Vancouver and told stories about the backstage at SeaWorld based on the experiences of four trainers. He said the drastic contrast of the two environments is stunning.
Kirby said whales, especially the ones born in captivity, form communities in both environments, but the limited space of pools can create unhealthy or even dangerous habits.
Rose, who lives in Fairfax, Va., said the book will help spread awareness of the issues to the public.
While Rose does not question SeaWorld’s passion for animals, she feels they need to know more about how whales live in the wild and compare it to behavior in captivity.
Rose said wild killer whales have never killed a person, even though there have been incidents where whales have bitten people.
In contrast, Rose said killer whales in captivity have killed four people since SeaWorld opened in 1965. Tilikum and two female orcas killed a trainer in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1991 and Tilikum likely killed a man who sneaked into his tank in Orlando in 1999 and was found dead on top of the whale.
“I don’t think any of the whales meant to kill (people),” Rose said, adding the whales probably thought it was a game or they acted out of frustration.
The book also talks about the legal battle between SeaWorld and the federal government, which fined the theme park and prohibited trainers from working with killer whales in the water following the death.
Rose said the U.S. Department of Agriculture will discuss a decision to keep trainers away from killer whales at SeaWorld during a hearing scheduled for Friday, while the period to submit public comment ends Oct. 29.