Dr. Rose Tackles Thorny Issues of Marine Mammal Captivity

If Dr. Naomi Rose , who joined AWI’s staff in September as the organization’s marine mammal scientist, ever elects to pen an autobiography, she knows where to go for the “early years” outline. All she has to do is look in the index of the book Death at SeaWorld under “Rose, Naomi.” A significant portion of the book—in which author David Kirby untangles the twisted ethical hoops humans have jumped through to turn orcas into acrobats—is dedicated to Naomi’s own life story. She is a central figure in the book because she is a central player on the issue. For more than 20 years, Naomi has been a leader of domestic and international efforts to publicize and address the many problems associated with the capture and captivity of marine mammals for public display.

Marine mammals are not Naomi’s only area of expertise (do not attempt to stump her on the finer details of the venerable British sci-fi series, Dr. Who—you will fail), but they certainly have been a singular obsession from an early age. When she was 13, she announced to her parents that she was going to study dolphins. They may have written it off as a young girl’s romantic whim—all the more so considering what sparked it: an exceedingly earnest 1970s-era music video featuring wild cetaceans and John Denver’s ode to Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s iconic ship, Calypso. If they did, however, they seriously underestimated their daughter’s focus, determination and drive. Her mind was made up.

Indeed, Naomi’s career choice did not waver through her high school and college years. Later, it propelled her doctoral work at UC Santa Cruz, where her dissertation examined the social dynamics of wild orcas. But what started out as an academic’s desire to unlock the secrets surrounding the lives, habits, and social structure of the largest dolphin morphed into a scientist’s affronted sensibilities concerning the unnatural and illogical way in which humans conscript and confine marine mammals for entertainment purposes.

Over the years, Naomi has become the “go to” scientific authority for print, radio, and television reporters when they wish to address the (de)merits of cetacean captivity. A recent screen appearance came in October 2013, when she appeared on a special edition of Anderson Cooper’s popular 360o show to discuss the issues addressed in Blackfish—a 2013 documentary that covers some of the same ground (or concrete-walled water) as Death at SeaWorld—with Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the film’s director, opposite zoo and aquarium representatives.

She is also a prolific writer—authoring/co-authoring over 30 scientific papers and authoring numerous articles for animal protection publications, as well as chapters in several books. She lectures annually at three universities and has testified before the U.S. Congress four times, on issues as diverse as polar bear sport hunting, the welfare of captive marine mammals, and the impacts on marine mammals of human-caused noise in the ocean. The behemoths of the cetacean world occupy her attention, too: Naomi has been a member of the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee since 2000, within which she participates in the subcommittee on whale watching and the standing working group on environmental concerns.

At AWI, Naomi will lead our efforts to protect captive marine mammals and contribute to other campaigns in our marine mammal program. We are thrilled to have her aboard.