Tilikum Improving but SeaWorld is Still Tanking

It was in March of this year when SeaWorld announced that their most well-known orca was sick. According to a press release by the park, Tilikum was suffering from a bacterial infection in his lungs and was not expected to survive. Now it seems, Tilikum’s health is improving slightly, SeaWorld, however, is not.

When the largest holder of marine mammals in North America teamed up with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to announce that it would cease orca breeding across its parks, CEO Joel Manby willed the world to accept that the leopard had changed its spots. HSUS, who had hounded SeaWorld for more than 20 years, even surprisingly, declared, “this March, the fight ended.” It alarmed some, for whom, the fight was just beginning. Despite the partnership, and SeaWorld’s best efforts to strike a cord with the public, the park could not seem to escape the ‘Blackfish Effect.’

At the beginning of May, financial results for the first quarter of 2016, reported a staggering net loss of $84 million compared to a net loss of $43.6 million in the first quarter of 2015. Just this week, we learned that its California-based park was the only park in its region to experience a drop in attendance, making it the “worst performing park in North America.” While some claimed the lack of new attractions for the drop in attendance, others claimed that SeaWorld was still reeling from Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary, ‘Blackfish.’

‘Blackfish’ was released in 2013. The loss in attendance since then is nearing vertical. SeaWorld blowing off the film as inconsequential will remain one of the company’s biggest gaffes in its 50+ year history.
On paper, the allegedly, more conservation-minded SeaWorld is attempting to collaborate with the right people. Its partnership with HSUS was only the first stage. It has now teamed up with Guy Harvey, an artist and shark conservationist who just completed a giant shark mural at SeaWorld Orlando.
Harvey was hammered by sport fishing enthusiasts and anti-captivity supporters alike after he aligned himself with SeaWorld and consequently HSUS. In response, Harvey penned this open letter for his blog.
“I am not advocating for a ban on all shark fishing,” Harvey said, in an attempt to please his fellow anglers. Urging sustainability, the popular angler pled his support for catch and release shark tournaments and slammed both HSUS and PETA:
I have difficulty in accommodating the role of the HSUS in the sport fishing arena. Other than encouraging catch and release where possible, I see no reason for this organization to exert any influence in sport fishing. I have an even stronger opinion of PETA, which is just too extreme to even get my attention.
The statement was surprising when HSUS supports the Shark-Free Marina Initiative of whom Guy Harvey is a board member.
While the Humane Society and Guy Harvey may not fully be on the same page, for better or worse, they are now both partnered with SeaWorld. These partnerships have certainly bolstered SeaWorld’s armory on paper, but many are simply not buying it. This week, ‘The Motley Fool’s’ Rick Munarriz, even asked the question, “When Will You Forgive SeaWorld Entertainment?
“SeaWorld is evolving,” Munarriz wrote. “It won’t be enough to appease some of SeaWorld’s harshest critics,” he said, before implying that the park’s harshest critics were mainly activists. Yet nearly 21 million people watched ‘Blackfish’ when it first aired on CNN. A figure that is certain to have grown since then, and who are not all activists.
Tilikum. Image: Milan Boers; Wikimedia Commons/

Tilikum. Image: Milan Boers; Wikimedia Commons/

SeaWorld naysayers also consist of ordinary people who simply want the truth from a company that makes billions of dollars from displaying animals. They are parents who wish to raise their children with better awareness and children who inherently know something is wrong when they see it. It is the everyday consumer who has joined the call to demand that aquariums acknowledge current science in their business models. They know this science does not support captivity for complex marine mammals such as whales and dolphins.

The general public has woken up and yet marine parks still believe that the change is driven by radical activists. But free thinkers — albeit, spurred on by documentaries such as ‘The Cove’, ‘Blood Dolphin$‘ and ‘Blackfish’, have pierced the corporate veil of their own volition. SeaWorld and other marine parks failed to plug the hole with any logical or definitive answer to the criticism, and now it’s too late. Without radical evolution, all they can do is attempt to stem the tide with a sieve.

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About Elizabeth Batt

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Elizabeth is a freelance writer, a former large animal nurse and a former certified NREMT. She is passionate about the ocean and its inhabitants and her work focuses on cetacean-related issues, including captive whales and dolphins. She graduated in psychology and sociology and lives with her family in beautiful northwestern Montana.

Author: Elizabeth Batt


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