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The Whale That Isn’t

A new non-fiction thriller on the plight of Sea World’s performing orcas will make you want to stay out of the water parks. Our fish tale pick of late summer’s beach reads.

Author David Kirby’s “Death at Sea World” (St. Martin’s, 469 pgs.) dispels more than one presumed given about those penguin-hued monsters of the sea, the most telling being that killer whales are actually members of the dolphin family—not whales, nor inherent “killers” of humans, or each other.

In fact, they only kill when they’re in captivity. In the chronicling of history, there’s never been one recorded case of a human fatality caused by an orca at sea. The investigative page-turner—subtitled “Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity”—makes a strong case for banning marine theme parks from capturing more whales, and even makes one for freeing those secretly-replaced Shamus still held in tanks.

The opposite of sharks—known for their blunt independence and even eating their young–orcas remain close to their mothers for their entire lives. They have babysitting leagues in which one mother will look out for another’s calves when she’s out on errands, so to speak. They’re talkers, just like dolphins. After reading this book, we realized we’d rather be left with a pod of killer whales than with a gaggle of back-stabbing soccer moms.

Of course, those readers who wait with, er, baited breath, for each Discovery Channel “Shark Week” are going to read it for the blood-curdling recounts of the attacks since the 1970s upon luckless Sea World trainers, and truth be told, they’re harrowing. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

If “Death at Sea World” can make an activist out of any reader who loves sea creatures—who simply aren’t built to be painted into swimming pool corners, then it’s done it’s job.