Here's a progress log of my whale book. Details are intentionally vague, because I don't want to say anything that gets other people in trouble.
I'm reading and taking subject-level notes on 10 books. These range in skill and scope from the self-published diaries of a whale trainer, to the philosophical explorations of SeaWorld and animal rights. More books will be added to my collection before this phase is finished.
One of the many books I'm consulting
Using a database manager, I have been collecting more than 1000 different articles, recordings, and images on the subject. This collection will grow as my understanding of the industry and its history grows. I am using a special data pipeline that allows me to search and cite articles in LaTeX by directly querying the database. I have a master LaTeX notes document that serves as my home base for the future writing of the book.
Artwork depicting a Roman "battle" with an orca
One of the specialties of my work is the attention paid to internet culture. The quick change in public sentiment, often known as the "Blackfish Effect," came partially from turning anti-captivity rhetoric into a meme. The anonymity of social media allows for harsh exchanges of information and misinformation. This sentiment persists to the present day. I am scraping comments from YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram using the same database manager. It's difficult to create a coherent narrative from these short exchanges, but it's something that I'll try.
One example of anti-industry rhetoric (Instagram)
I have conducted a series of initial interviews from people on all sides of the controversy. From these talks, I've gained many pieces of never-before-revealed information about the industry and the counter-industry that I look forward to sharing. My main "character" is a killer whale trainer who was very good friends with Dawn Brancheau, the trainer killed in 2010.
My "character" (back) with Dawn (front)
Activists and academics are relatively easy to reach, but the industry itself is a very hard fortress to penetrate. So far, I've gotten more industry collaboration than any of the existing publications, and I hope for further transparency and continued communication in the future.
I have a personal whale photographer, but it's less useful than I imagined
Part of my work will eventually culminate in a visit to the parks. This may be a few years in the future when I have enough informational maturity to get the most of a physical visit and observation. Hopefully, by then I'll also have certain journalistic permissions within the parks, as I do not intend to conduct hidden camera/mic investigations.
A very young version of Max at Shamu Stadium
Because this is a long-term project, I am not focusing much on the marketing of my final product. If you're my friend on Facebook I might post an update once a month or so. This whole thing is just a fun hobby that I've learned to take seriously, but it is subordinate to my main commitments of CS research and study.
One of a few "logos" for this project
Last summer (2020) I spat out a 250-page manuscript that I ended up discarding because it was not very coherent. I'm taking things much slower and thinking of the human and animal narratives I want to sculpt and weave throughout my writing. I will be framing my writing as a journey of personal discovery as I make my way through researching the industry, sort of like the structure done by Susan Orlean in "The Library Book" or by Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma".
Scrivener, my writing software