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article imageOp-Ed: Supporters hacking SeaWorld's public relations image

By Elizabeth Batt     Dec 18, 2013 in Entertainment
Yesterday, the Florida Attractions Association (FAA) in defense of SeaWorld, stepped in to battle the backlash caused by the documentary Blackfish. They were supported by Theme Park who labeled activists as lazy.
In one of the most bewildering opinion pieces ever read, Robert Niles of took animal activists to task over their campaigns to ask acts to withdraw from SeaWorld's Bands, Brew and Barbecue event.
In the last several weeks, eight of 10 scheduled acts have withdrawn from the annual event citing controversy or concern over the movie Blackfish, the 2013 documentary that opened up SeaWorld's inner workings to the world.
Niles suggested that anti-captivity activists and the furor they have caused could be doing SeaWorld a huge favor.
Had Niles not clumped everyone together under the same umbrella, people may have taken the piece more seriously, but clearly the effort at research was limited to just one category: labeling anybody who expressed a concern about SeaWorld a radical activist.
So yet again, as SeaWorld hides, another supporter steps into the fray and fails to answer the criticisms leveled — even by genuinely concerned people. Not activists, but visitors who have been to the park and were shocked after watching Blackfish.
"SeaWorld's a high profile target," Niles said. "One that established a practice of not fighting back against, and often, not even responding to, PR attacks."
"Silence is golden when you can't think of a good answer," said Muhammad Ali.
SeaWorld's profits rely on a paying public. They court families on a daily basis who pay heftily to be entertained. A SeaWorld Orlando Any Day Ticket is $82 for an adult and $77 for a child between the ages of 3-9 nine years. For a family with two adults and two children, that's $318 not including added attractions or food and beverages.
In this CBS interview, SeaWorld said of the acts' withdrawal:
This is a coordinated campaign of digital harassment and does not in any sense represent the opinions of the American public.
The Orca Project quipped back on its Facebook page, "News flash for SeaWorld: We ARE the American public!"
When is a company not answerable to those whose money it takes? And why are legitimate concerns such as this one by SeaWorld visitor: Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti, labeled PR attacks?
In another instance, one regular visitor to SeaWorld was Samantha, who had visited the park "over 100 times" and was actually in the audience during the Ken Peters incident. Peters was grabbed by the orca Kasatka and repeatedly dragged underwater. He was lucky to escape with his life.
Samantha told Tim Zimmermann via an email, that she had yearned to be a killer whale trainer since being a young girl. Then she watched Blackfish.
Together with David Kirby's book: Death at SeaWorld, Samantha reached her own conclusions and extended her gratitude to Zimmermann:
Thank you for opening my eyes to what SeaWorld really is. A money hungry company that has little, if any, regard for the care and safety of their animals or their employees.
In another instance Haley ‏@hv_blondieee tweeted, "Watching #Blackfish.. Brb while I go rip up all the pictures of me at SeaWorld." Kassie Lyn Logsdon ‏@MissKassieLyn added:
"Decided to watch #Blackfish. Only 15 minutes in and I'm already in tears. I'm so sad I've even been to SeaWorld."
It isn't just musical stars backing out of SeaWorld, conscientious youngsters are too. Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School cancelled their annual SeaWorld trip after students and parents complained about the unethical treatment of orca whales.
Hardly radical activists, any of them.
Yet for Niles, "the anti-animal-captivity activists' campaign against SeaWorld has been a dud." The stars who have cancelled their shows will only save SeaWorld "performance fees," he adds -- which in turn will attract a better paying public who spend more money "on food and beer" ultimately increasing profits for SeaWorld.
Oh my.
Legitimate questions are not radical activism. Campaigns happen often for good reasons. Without these causes or activist groups, laws wouldn't exist against dogfighting, cockfighting or the myriad of other animal abuses humans have leveled at them over the decades.
Animal mistreatment was often overlooked, as was catching marine mammals from the wild. Perspectives only changed through scientific research, knowledge and activism. As people, we evolved. Something SeaWorld seems reluctant to do.
When whale catchers Don Goldsberry and Ted Griffin began capturing orcas in Puget Sound in the early 1970s, they netted over 200 orcas. "About 30 were sent to various aquaria. The rest went to SeaWorld," says this report by PBS.
In Penn Cove, Washington, another 80 whales are corralled. SeaWorld used aircraft and explosives during the roundup killing several in the capture process. "Their bellies are slit and they are weighed down with steel chains," said PBS, but "a few of these whales wash ashore and cause public outcry against whale captures in Washington's waters."
Exactly where are all of those captured orcas today? Wild female orcas can live into their 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond. There are currently 54 killer whales in captivity today around the world. The majority of them reside at SeaWorld parks.
After its devastating foray into Washington State, SeaWorld was smacked hard and banned from catching killer whales in Washington waters again.
Most businesses would have learned a lesson from the public backlash. But not SeaWorld. They simply turned to Iceland, and began to capture whales there instead.
Today, SeaWorld will claim that they no longer capture cetaceans from the wild. For the most part this is true, but it doesn't mean they don't have fingers in the pies of people who do.
Recently the company joined with other aquaria in funding research used solely to apply for a permit to import 18 wild-caught belugas from Russia to the United States. A permit that was denied by NOAA Fisheries because population sustainability could not be determined. NOAA's decision is being challenged.
SeaWorld has yet to:
—Show us the science that proves killer whales are healthier and live longer in captivity.
—Be truthful about how many killer whales have died at SeaWorld facilities over the years and their average age across all whales at death.
—Explain a system that breeds closely-related orcas to one another. Uncles to nieces and mothers to sons.
—Provide a reason for breeding orcas from different ecotypes that would never mix in the wild and have distinct diets.
—Produce their own research that directly benefits wild orca populations and doesn't support a captive environment.
—Explain why captive orcas' teeth require drilling or why their killer whales need regular medication and require pounds of gelatin to remain hydrated.
Neither can SeaWorld justify their reasoning behind challenging a court order designed to protect trainers from killer whale attacks. Two SeaWorld orcas have killed four people so far: three trainers and one park guest.
If the company can sell a Keeper Experience touted as working "side-by-side with our marine mammal experts," then those experts need to be allowed to speak.
Start the debate SeaWorld, because your 'stop picking on me' season pass has expired.
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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