Hats off to David Kirby, author of the just-published Death at SeaWorld, for filing a FOIA request to get OSHA to release this video of an attack that occurred at SeaWorld San Diego on November 29, 2006.
The killer whale is a wild-caught female named Kasatka. The trainer is Ken Peters. Watch the video, and you’ll see her drag him under by his foot, toss him around, bring him up, drag him down and bring him up again more than once before finally releasing him. You can read the full, frightening details of what happened on the surface and underwater in Kirby’s book and in an excerpt posted on his website.
More about this important new book coming soon. For now, some things to note about this 2006 attack:
1. If Kasatka had wanted to kill Peters, nothing could have stopped her. But she didn’t. He was injured, but he didn’t die. She had his foot in her mouth and could have bitten it off, but she didn’t do that, either. Instead, she hardly broke his skin. She knew exactly what she was doing. Killer whales always do.
2. Peters clearly contributed to his survival by staying calm during the attack and working to calm Kastka—even staying with her and patting and stroking her for a while after she released him before making his escape. He said later that he believed hearing her new calf cry out from another pool is what set her off.
3. California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) wrote in an early draft of its report on this incident that, although Peters survived, it was “only a matter of time” before a captive orca did kill a trainer and SeaWorld needed to be ready to kill an orca if necessary to save a trainer’s life. SeaWorld didn’t like that and demanded these opinions be deleted from the final report, and OSHA officials capitulated and even apologized. “We are the experts on whale behavior,” a SeaWorld VP told the Los Angeles Times.
Three years later, a SeaWorld-born killer whale named Keto killed a trainer named Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands on Christmas Eve 2009.
Two months after that, a wild-caught killer whale named Tilikum killed trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando on February 24, 2010, and people finally started questioning whether killer whales belong in captivity at all.
Now, with the release of this 2006 video and the publication of David Kirby’s book, people are questioning this practice again, and each time the subject comes up for renewed public debate, more voices speak out against it.
National Geographic wildlife correspondent Mireya Meyer isn’t a killer whale expert or trainer or a marine-mammal advocate, for example, and was out of her depth when questioned about captive killer whale attacks during an on-air phone interview with “America’s Newsroom” co-anchor Bill Hemmer as part of a Fox News report about the release of this video. Asked how she thought it would affect SeaWorld, Meyer started out sounding like she was going to defend keeping killer whales in captivity. But she didn’t.
“The problem,” Meyer said, “is, although I believe that SeaWorld for one and zoos in general are part of a huge conservation and education effort and I think are very successful at it, there are certain animals that are better kept as captive animals, and whales are certainly not one of them. For a whale, that’s like putting a human in a bathtub for life. I mean, it’s just a very confined space for an animal that size.”
Way to go, Meyer! Dolphin liberationist Ric O’Barry would approve. Perfect soundbite, unforgettable image disseminated live on Fox News, no less, to start people thinking differently about captive killer whales. To watch the segment, click below.
In his new book, David Kirby tries to get the same message across and then some by educating readers about how these magnificent creatures live in their own families, societies and environment and contrasting that with what their lives are reduced to when humans put them and breed them in tanks.
Read Kirby’s book, then watch the video of the 2006 SeaWorld attack again and think about the restraint wild-born Kasatka showed in not killing trainer Ken Peters. Start seeing life at SeaWorld and other captive facilities from a captive orca’s perspective, and you won’t wonder why killer whales do occasionally turn on and even kill their human captors.
You’ll wonder why they don’t do it more.