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Op-Ed: Bombed by Blackfish, fallout continues for SeaWorld

By Elizabeth Batt     Oct 31, 2013 in Environment
Around 1.4 million people tuned in to watch Blackfish when it premiered on CNN last week. It was good news for CNN but bad news for SeaWorld. From open letters to tweets and Facebook comments, SeaWorld is being battered by public opinion.
SeaWorld's San Diego Facebook page was forced to disable comments wrote U~T San Diego on Oct. 27. "Meanwhile, in the last three months," they said, "SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.'s stock has been sliding."
It isn't the only bad news the park has received recently. Since the documentary aired on CNN, its image in the court of public opinion is tanking. Even celebrities are getting in on the act.
British actor Stephen Fry, tweeted:
Stephen Fry/Twitter
Others too, responded. At, 78 celebrities aired their disgust. Singer Josh Groban said, "Kudos to @CNN for airing #Blackfish...what amusement parks are doing to our orcas and dolphins is immoral."
Zak Baggins of the popular Travel Show's Ghost Adventures added:
Whales DON'T BELONG in captivity, trainers get killed, whales get mentally & physically hurt, @SeaWorld must be hating #Blackfish #TruthIsOut.
And actor Ewan McGregor flat out stated:
'Blackfish' and 'The Cove' should be watched before deciding to take your kids to any sea life parks.
Blackfish/Magnolia Films/
Open letters plead with SeaWorld to rethink cetacean captivity
But I was more interested in whether anybody had contacted SeaWorld to air their concerns, particularly after hearing that SeaWorld was deleting comments and inquiries as fast as it could. Given this, and the park's mediocre response to the film, I wondered whether SeaWorld would respond directly to those who purchase its tickets?
I floated the question on Facebook and Twitter and asked people to contact me. "Did you contact SeaWorld after watching Blackfish and did you get a response?"
@ZunKings responded almost immediately:
@thebattwoman @digitaljournal no they don't respond; but they are heavily spewing garbage on their SeaWorldPodcast twitter.
Some who watched the movie, felt inspired enough to issue their responses via open letters to SeaWorld instead, and directed me to their posted missives. In "Goodbye SeaWorld," Brian Coe wrote, "After seeing the documentary Blackfish I felt very strongly that I needed to write a letter to SeaWorld."
Coe continued:
Dear SeaWorld,
In protest of keeping whales in captivity, I am boycotting all SeaWorld parks, and I am encouraging every compassionate person to join with me ... If SeaWorld is truly concerned about the well-being of their whales, as are many of us, then they must also conclude that it is in all whales’ best interest to live in their natural environment instead of concrete pools.
Coe remained adamant that "at some point SeaWorld will need to face its day of reckoning and defend its position." And until they "took action" he said, "goodbye, SeaWorld."
For Sarah Allegra, it was a fallen idol that hit her the hardest. After Blackfish aired on CNN, a subsequent debate on the Cable News Network marred her image of a man she had admired since she was a young girl. In an Open Letter to Jack Hanna, Allegra wrote:
Dear Mr. Hanna,
The great empathy I have toward animals today I owe, in part, to you.
I grew up watching your animal shows. They delighted and educated me, giving me insights into wondrous creatures I would not have access to otherwise. I believe you deeply and sincerely care about all wildlife and would never knowingly support animal cruelty in any form.
So, seeing you in interview after interview defending SeaWorld in light of the revelations in CNN’s recent documentary BLACKFISH, both boggles my mind and breaks my heart.
Allegra proceeded to profess her confusion over Hanna's SeaWorld defense, given that he had advocated "for humane conditions for factory animals" and championed "the idea that wild animals should be left wild." And in her conclusion, Allegra pleaded with Hanna to, "restore my faith in you and all that you have taught me through the years."
Julia Davies, a season pass holder with two children, actually took it upon herself to call SeaWorld directly. After a 25-minute wait, she told the person who fielded the call that she was very upset after seeing Blackfish. Davies (name changed by request), told DJ:
The girl on the phone sounded like she'd been fielding these calls all day and told me I could write SeaWorld if I wanted with my concerns and feelings, and gave me two different contacts. I told her I already did that. She was very reserved and measured in her reply and said she hadn't watched the film.
Given two addresses to contact:, and, Davies expressed her frustration over been passed off. "I told her that I expected to get the same statement they gave the media, which is NOT good enough," she explained, "and I said that I wanted to talk with someone, but she was clearly trained on what to say."
Last Monday, Davies again aired her concerns and sent them along to the two addresses given to her by the SeaWorld rep; she has yet to receive a response.
Upswing in public concern post Blackfish
Jeffrey Ventre, a former SeaWorld trainer and co-founder of Voice of the Orcas was featured heavily in Blackfish alongside fellow colleagues Samantha Berg, Carol Ray and John Jett. Ventre missed the Blackfish premiere entirely on CNN because he was in attendance for the movie's premiere at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. He did not miss however, the upswing in public concern.
Since the CNN premiere, @jeffrey_ventre has personally gained 600 new followers on Twitter while Voice_OT_Orcas has garnered 1,000 more.
Meanwhile, Twitter remains abuzz over the documentary that has now been nominated for a 2013 International Documentary Assn. Award and is being tipped to win an Oscar. One of the most popular searches on Twitter is 'F*** SeaWorld', and it does indeed yield results from around the globe.
Ventre told Digital Journal:
The CNN airings of Blackfish have reached more people in the past week, than at all of the film festivals & theaters added together. Since January of this year, the combination of the Sundance premiere, followed by the sustained global film festival circuit, then the theatrical release, and now the international CNN airings
Jeffrey Ventre
amounts to a best-case scenario for the animal justice movement and for the film.
It has also led to an important spike of sales for best selling author David Kirby's book, Death at SeaWorld. This is important because David takes the conversation to the next level with important details that that movie doesn't have time to cover. Thus, It started with a big bang in Park City and continues to ramp up all the way in to 2014, especially with award season coming up. The film even sold out at the Abu Dhabi film festival which I attended last week in the Middle East, which was a welcome surprise.
Fountains in front of  Emirates Palace   the home base for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and the sold ...
Fountains in front of "Emirates Palace", the home base for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and the sold out premiere of Blackfish.
Image: Jeffrey Ventre
The Orca Project's Colleen Gorman, whose organization helped with the research for Blackfish, also took a moment to talk with DJ.
Gorman has been fielding questions from a concerned public since Blackfish aired and told me, "We've received an incredible amount of emails from pass-holders, people who wanted to be trainers (and now don't), regular folks, and mom's who are devastated. It's a truly remarkable time in history," she said.
SeaWorld's response and continued debate
For the most part, SeaWorld has defended its operations with either written statements or pro-SeaWorld supporters such as Jack Hanna and Billy Hurley of the Georgia Aquarium. As for public support, there has been some for the park, as listed in U~T San Diego's article linked above.
The predominant arguments from SeaWorld and its supporters contend that without such parks in place allowing up close and personal interactions, nobody would have such love for killer whales and dolphins. Ric O'Barry of the Dolphin Project countered the argument by saying that kids love dinosaurs without ever having seen them.
SeaWorld also suggested that its contribution to conservation and rescue programs should not be overlooked. And indeed they shouldn't, but Cetacean Inspiration's response was definitely inspirational:
The ethics of keeping killer whales in captivity is totally irrelevant to conservation and rescue programs. Using these programs to justify killer whale captivity is a bit like defending an abusive person because they volunteer at a soup kitchen. The two are not related. Just because someone does something “good” does not mean that they are excused to do something evil.
On a further note, a colleague's 12-year-old daughter was completely oblivious to the controversy surrounding the documentary. After watching Blackfish, her father asked whether she would like to be a killer whale trainer when she grows up? "Nah, that sounds life-risky," she responded, "and SeaWorld isn't honest with its trainers."
More orca captures
If SeaWorld is hoping to ride out the storm Blackfish is churning, then it might be disappointed. Due to popular demand, CNN will re-air the film tonight and tomorrow. For the full schedule, visit CNN/
If you are following the debate that continues to rage across social media, you may have missed a noteworthy and disturbing incident that could set some things in perspective for you.
According to a post at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Erich Hoyt, a researcher, conservationist, lecturer and author, reported that four orcas had been "captured in Russian waters for ocean amusement parks and aquariums."
These four killer whales joined three other orcas who are destined for sale to a Chinese aquarium and/or a new exhibition center opening in Moscow. With seven orcas captured in just two months, SeaWorld may not have directly played a role in their capture but they could reap the benefits. Constantly looking to expand its breeding program and widen its genetic diversity, any captive orca would be fair game with artificial insemination in play.
So when SeaWorld seeks credit for raising public awareness about killer whales, then surely it must also acknowledge the ripple effects of its actions, including how far these have spread? By capturing orcas, training them, and placing them on display for profit, SeaWorld has paved the way for the explosion of captive facilities currently being seen across China, Russia, Japan and the Middle East.
For further details on the movie, visit Blackfish the
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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