This may seem a bit morbid for a Monday must-read, but hear me out. Death at Sea World by David Kirby is one of those books that makes you think.
Kirby wrote this book about Tilikum, the whale involved in the killing of a trainer at Sea World Orlando in February 2010. The book follows Tilikum from what was likely his birth in the waters near Iceland and eventual capture, then through various parks before finally ending up in Orlando.
Woven throughout the book are the narratives of other Orcas in captivity, as well as general information about the science and study of orcas in the wild and in captivity.
If you’ve seen Blackfish, you will have a general premise of where the book is coming from. However, as an objective observer (or at least I try to be), I found the book to be more objective. Blackfish doesn’t delve into the documents Sea World provided in the OSHA hearings or their documentation of past incidents. Kirby does.
After reading this book, I’m not sure I would want to give my money to Sea World again. While I acknowledge there is an educational value to seeing creatures one may not normally see, considering what I know now, I don’t know that I could support keeping essentially caged up for their entire lives.
I think I would much rather go to Canada or the Pacific Northwest to see Orcas in their natural habitat.
Ironically, my family and I visited Sea World Orlando in August 2010, only a few months after the trainer death mentioned in the book. As I looked back on that trip during my reading of Kirby’s book, I realized we saw Tilikum. He was in a tank by himself, sulking in a corner, his lopsided fin clearly visible. When he swam by at one point, I just remember him looking sad. I don’t know that there’s any right word to describe the look on his face, and maybe that was just his normal look, but it seemed sad.
I hope you will read this book if you are considering a trip to Sea World or have gone in the past. Educating yourself to make the best decision for you and yours is all that any of us can ask.