Four years of Awareness since Dawn’s Death

Today marks the 4th anniversary of Dawn Brancheau’s death and the four year journey of heightened awareness of orcas in captivity. Sadly, that awareness came too late for Dawn.  One has to wonder how she would feel if she were still here today, especially knowing that she was blamed for her own death.  There is no denying that her story opened the eyes of millions of people to the issues surrounding captivity.

I still remember that day clearly, the local news in Orlando constantly showing Tilikum alone inside his tiny tank as if being punished.  I didn’t know what to think.  Up to this point, I had never considered captivity being wrong.  I had visited the park on many occasions and had undoubtedly seen Dawn perform in several shows through the years. She was a local hero and a senior trainer at the park. I was dumbfounded.  Who’s fault was it? What would happen to Tilikum?

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Photo from WFTV gallery

Many others also began questioning what went wrong.  First was Tim Zimmermann who wrote the comprehensive Killer in the Pool, an inside look into the subject of orcas in captivity.  He writes about Dawn:

IF ANYONE WAS GOING to take care around Tilikum, it was Dawn Brancheau. She was one of SeaWorld’s best and completely dedicated to the animals and her job. (She even met her husband, Scott, in the SeaWorld cafeteria.) She had worked at SeaWorld Orlando since 1994, spending two years working with otters and sea lions before graduating to work with the killer whales. She was fun and selfless, volunteering at a local animal shelter and often keeping everything from stray ducks and chickens to rabbits and small birds at her home.

Next, David Kirby writes Death at SeaWorld, giving detailed information of not only Dawn’s death, but also those victims before her. Kirby also outlines many other prior incidents previously hidden from the public.  Coupled with the studies of wild orca populations by Dr. Naomi Rose, the book exposes the dark side of orcas in captivity.

Following the release of the book, HSUS released The Real SeaWorld, a powerful 4 minute video featuring David Kirby, Dr. Naomi Rose, Jeff Ventre, Sam Berg and Carol Ray.

Probably the most powerful change has been the release of Blackfish.  Blackfish director Gabriella Cowperthwaite tells David Kirby that she made the film to answer the questions: Why was a senior trainer killed by such a highly intelligent animal, an animal with whom she presumably had a relationship?  Why would such a highly emotional, intelligent animal bite the hand that feeds it?

Blackfish opened at Sundance Film Festival last January and premiered on CNN October 24, 2013 as #1 in cable news averaging 472k in the key-demo adults 25-54 rating. Millions of people have seen the film and the views of the public are rapidly changing against captivity.

Dawn was the fourth victim taken by killer whales in captivity, but it was her death that brought the captivity issue into the forefront of public awareness.  There is no doubt that she had a love for the animals she cared for. I only hope that her story changes the way we view these animals and that our love for them is translated into doing the right thing.

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2013 Year in Review

I had just finished reading David Kirby’s Death at SeaWorld at the beginning of 2013, and I was highly anticipating the release of Blackfish.  Reading reviews after it’s premiere at Sundance, I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.

When I heard Blackfish was premiering in Florida at Miami Film Festival, I had to go.

March 3, 2013


Most of the stories in Blackfish were also told in detail in Death at SeaWorld, but seeing them on screen and hearing the former trainers talk about them was very powerful.  I was also in shock at hearing John Crowe recall the captures of wild baby orcas to supply SeaWorld’s collection.

After seeing the film, I wanted everyone to see it.  Blackfish was the opening film a month later on April 5 at Sarasota Film Festival, so I took my dad.  My dad had taken me to SeaWorld several times as a child, thinking it was educational (as many of us believed).  He was shocked by what he saw in the film!

April 25 I attended another round of OSHA vs. SeaWorld to decide if the Petition for Modification of Abatement Date should be extended.

Soon after, as I got more involved in the anti-captivity community, I became a board member for Fins and Fluke.  It is such an honor for me to work with such a great group of people who are passionate about our oceans.

My first event was attending the annual Hands Across the Sand event in Vero Beach on May 18 with fellow board member, Amanda Fagan.

Death at SeaWorld was released on paperback July 2.  It sold out at Amazon UK in just 16 days and was listed #1 in Animals at Amazon Canada on July 9 and at Amazon US on July 20.  Death at SeaWorld has now undergone several reprints.  Have you read it yet?

DASW PB

July 27 was the first annual Empty the Tanks, and my first protest.

Fins and Fluke put out a petition to SeaWorld asking them to stop their captive breeding program at the end of July.  This is imperative to phasing out the horrible practice of keeping orcas captive.  If you haven’t signed yet, please sign and share.

Blackfish premiered at the Enzian near Orlando on August 9 with all major news channels reporting, including Mike DeForest of Click Orlando.

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During a brief hiatus from Fins and Fluke, I launched a fundraising campaign to help fund the release of Roxanne the Risso’s dolphin from Riverhead Foundation.  Roxanne was released August 28.  You can track her progress here.  Riverhead continues to need support in rehabilitating other dolphins, seals and sea turtles that regularly need their help.

On September 1, I also hosted an event for Japan Dolphins Day, the beginning of the dolphin drives in Taiji, in Daytona.  It was great to meet so many other fellow advocates, including Andrea Bosiger who later became a board member with Fins and Fluke.

Andrew Schwartz's photo.

On October 10, I had the great privilege of representing Fins and Fluke at a protest at Miami Seaquarium filmed for SBS Dateline and meeting Ric O’Barry.  I was so overwhelmed by everyone who attended the event giving their support to Lolita.

Blackfish awareness exploded after several screenings on CNN, premiering on October 24.

Andrea and I became Sea Shepherd on-shore volunteers this year as well.  I had the opportunity to volunteer at Veg Fest and DEMA later this year.

 Veg Fest Oct. 26, 2013

 DEMA Nov. 7, 2013

November 9 was the next SeaWorld protest bringing awareness to the 30-year anniversary of Tilikum’s capture.

On December 5, Fins and Fluke partnered with Oceana and Surfrider at the Seismic Airgun Testing forum.  We are looking forward to continuing this partnership in the future to bring awareness against seismic airgun testing.

December 22, Andrea and I joined the protest at SeaWorld Orlando to celebrate Cash’s birthday and the eight bands who have dropped out of SeaWorld’s Bands, Brew and BBQ event.  The momentum has been unstoppable and we are hoping it continues well into the new year and beyond.  With 100 protesters, the word is spreading!

So what’s next in 2014?  Keep spreading the word!  Get involved!

Do you need some ideas?

You can follow Ocean Advocate on Facebook or Twitter and follow Fins and Fluke on Facebook and Twitter, or visit our website.

Read Death at SeaWorld and follow David’s blog series at the Death at SeaWorld page at TakePart.

Read David’s article “Six Ways You Can Help Captive Killer Whales Right Now” for more ideas.

Follow the trainers featured in Death at SeaWorld and Blackfish at their blog and on Twitter.

Let’s make 2014 even bigger!!!

Death at SeaWorld paperback release kicks off the Summer of the Killer Whale

The 2010 death of Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando shook thousands, leaving many to question why such a highly intelligent animal would do such a horrific act.  David Kirby dove head first into the questions that lingered, and the result is the informative, thrilling book, Death at SeaWorld.

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Death at SeaWorld delves deep into the beginning of the captive whale industry and chronicles the behind-the-scenes reality of these animals in order to understand what might lead them to kill.  Former SeaWorld trainers share their stories and observations, leading them to have their own doubts about captivity.  To compare their stories to killer whales in the wild, Kirby shares input from Dr. Naomi Rose, leading marine mammal expert with Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Death at SeaWorld was first released in hardback in July 2012 to rave reviews.  The paperback is set to release on July 2, one week from today.  The paperback includes an updated look including a quote from The Wall Street Journal and a promo “splash” for the highly anticipated documentary, Blackfish, on the cover.  There are also rave reviews and three pages of blurbs inside.  Look for Death at SeaWorld on New Release tables in your local bookstores.  Let’s put it on the Best Seller shelves as well!

If you have already read Death at SeaWorld, please consider purchasing a paperback to donate to your local library or school.  Most of those who visit marine parks just don’t know any better.  Awareness and education are key, and it is our jobs to spread the word.

You can find the link on Amazon here:  http://www.amazon.com/Death-SeaWorld-Killer-Whales-Captivity/dp/1250031257/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372033559&sr=8-1&keywords=death+at+seaworld+paperback

Or Barnes and Noble here:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/death-at-sea-world-david-kirby/1110787181?ean=9781250031259

For an autographed sticker for your book, join our event on Fins and Fluke:  http://www.facebook.com/events/420429341398500/

David has continued to document stories of killer whales issues in the past year on TakePart.  A list of these stories, as well as links to other advocacy websites, can be found at:  http://deathatseaworld.com/?p=669

He would like to thank you all for your continued enthusiasm and support, and he hopes we can make this the “summer of the killer whale”.