SeaWorld Needs to Explain Why Killer Whales Should Be in Captivity

By Michael Comeau  JAN 07, 2014 10:19 AM

The hit documentary Blackfish is a PR disaster for SeaWorld.

 


People hate SeaWorld (NYSE:SEAS)?

What?

I wish we could say it isn't so, but look at what pops up on Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) when you type in "SeaWorld is":



For SeaWorld, the hit documentary Blackfish has been nothing short of a nightmare.

Blackfish tells the story of killer whale Tilikum, who was involved in the deaths of three humans, including that of a very experienced SeaWorld trainer named Dawn Brancheau. Her violent death is central to the story.

The filmmakers behind Blackfish explore the possibility that SeaWorld's treatment of Tilikum led to his aggression, and force us to confront the notion that maybe these beautiful, majestic animals -- which are also known as orcas -- shouldn't be held as captive entertainers.

Interest in Blackfish has been skyrocketing. The film received a small release last July, but was shown on CNN in October 2013, and now, it has taken off on Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) Instant, where it's received 771 written reviews, which is pretty impressive for a documentary. The Avengers, the number three all-time movie box office winner, has 1,097. Blackfish is also widely expected to receive an Oscar nomination.

The trailer alone is pretty damning:



In fact, I've spoken to numerous people who were afraid to watch the actual film after seeing the trailer.

And Blackfish does hit hard. We see killers whales attacking trainers. We see calves traumatically separated from their mothers. And we see fishermen aggressively hunting down whales in the wild.

Here are some clips posted on the movie's website. I don't recommend watching them if you're squeamish:





But most importantly, Blackfish humanizes orcas. They're shown to form incredibly strong familial bonds and have highly complex communication skills. Most deadly to SeaWorld, the film reveals that orcas are capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions -- including frustration from being forced to live in a small, enclosed area that's very different from their natural habitats.

And this is where SeaWorld really bites it, because people are empathizing with the orcas.

The company's "Animal Advocates" have come out on defense against Blackfish, penning an open letter including the following facts: The problem here is that SeaWorld is going tit for tat on the details, likely in an effort to discredit the film, when it needs to be addressing the much bigger question of whether orcas should be in captivity working as entertainers.

That's what's on people's minds right now.

This isn't about whether or not SeaWorld treats its animals to the nth level of perfection. It's whether SeaWorld should have those animals at all.

Nobody is giving SeaWorld the benefit of the doubt and it's got to earn trust now. Otherwise, it could slide into an ugly position where people will be too ashamed to go to SeaWorld.

So come on, SeaWorld, explain it to us.

Twitter: @Minyanville




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