SeaWorld has sold out the entire zoological community, as well as their loyal customers.
I am going to assume that if you are reading this you’re aware of SeaWorld’s very recent announcement to end Killer Whale breeding, and partner with “The Humane Society of the United States” HSUS. If you are not familiar with the details, you can find them here: https://seaworldcares.com/Future
SeaWorld has undoubtedly had a rough time since the “documentary” Blackfish was released, attendance has slumped and profits have decreased. Although, recently attendance numbers appeared to be on the rise, and the decline in profits had stopped. When I heard a SeaWorld spokeswomen speak at a conference last fall, she seemed cautiously optimistic about the future of the company and their Killer Whale program. We knew they were changing things in San Diego, but I don’t think anyone expected anything like what has occurred.
There really are two totally separate issues at play here, and SeaWorld made mistakes in how it handled both of them. The first issue, is the end of the breeding program, which for many reasons as a zoological professional I strongly disagree with, and can’t support. With that being said, if the company felt it was out of options, breeding could have been phased out in a manner that met their objective for good press, and didn’t alienate their loyal customers or the zoo community. I wouldn’t have liked it, but I could have accepted that decision. The company might have said: “Starting in 2019 SeaWorld will no longer be breeding its Killer Whale’s because the controversy surrounding the program, while totally baseless and unfounded is having a negative impact on our company, and this change will allow us to move forward with the best interest of our animals in mind.” This could have been sold to the general public, and more importantly the extremely loyal SeaWorld fans. They wouldn’t have liked it, but would most likely, accept it and move forward.
The second and frankly most pressing issue is the unholy alliance with HSUS, and even going so far as to partner with them. The SeaWorld CEO appeared with Wayne Pacelle on CBS, and showed him around the park like he was a VIP guest. This is where SeaWorld made their biggest mistake. For the past 3 years SeaWorld has been cultivating their fan base, mobilizing them, allowing pro SeaWorld Facebook blogs access, and educating these fans. So by now these 700,000+ loyal followers (the count of just a few of the pages) have been educated about the shady dealings of HSUS and their quest to end zoos and aquariums forever. In that respect, SeaWorld has been immensely successful, more so than I had even realized.
After yesterdays announcement, I have monitored the pro SeaWorld Facebook pages, and while of course everyone is upset that the breeding program will end, the real betrayal is felt over the HSUS partnership. This is where SeaWorld’s executive team made their biggest error, in my opinion. The loyal park guests had been told for years now that HSUS was bad, and rightfully so, but now all of the sudden they are an important partner going forward? Needless to say these people are very upset and unhappy, myself included.
By partnering with HSUS, SeaWorld has opened a pandoras box that I’m not sure can be shut, at the very least it has undone years of work to expose the radical intentions of the HSUS. Groups like Humane Watch, NAIA, Protect The Harvest, and SeaWorld have worked tirelessly to educate the public about the true intentions of HSUS. Now with this alliance, HSUS gets to wrap themselves in the cloth of “reasonability”, and says it just wants to work with companies, they don’t have to be enemies. Of course the subtext is that an animal facility does not have to be at odds with HSUS, as long as it does what the “charity” wants.
The unintended consequence of this new alliance is that HSUS now has total legitimacy to take on any zoological group that they want. Our argument, although still accurate, that HSUS don’t believe in zoos, will be a much harder sell with SeaWorld by their side. This is why this is a betrayal of the entire zoological community in addition to the park’s fans that have been so loyal standing with the company in this fight against animal rights extremists. If you doubt this, just wait, HSUS will be arriving at a zoo near you looking to make changes or phase out breeding programs. All of this will be under the guise of “animal welfare”, when in reality it is just a slow methodical march toward the end of animals in human care. Don’t be surprised if you hear HSUS say that all zoos should now end their elephant breeding programs, due to a shift in public sentiment, after SeaWorld’s momentous decision.
Then we have the issue of incrementalism, for SeaWorld itself. Since this announcement is unlikely to change the minds of devoted animal rights activists, the next calls will be for the end of Dolphin and Beluga Whale breeding. As a matter of fact on their official FB page today, HSUS has already said that they will continue to work on “welfare” improvements for the other animals at the parks. That is activist speak for, we are coming for the Dolphins and Beluga Whales next. The end of the breeding programs is the only “welfare” move that could possibly be made, by a group who believe that animals being in human care is inherently cruel. Everyone knows that SeaWorld provides the best care humanly possible to marine mammals, so there are no major welfare improvements that can be made going forward, aside from stopping all together. As we have seen with the activist’s attacks on the Blue World project, larger enclosures are not what they are looking for.
What would SeaWorld be without its marine mammals? Just another mediocre theme park? That’s harsh, but true. The animals are what make SeaWorld special. There is a possibility that the company anticipates a future with little, to no animals. HSUS also said yesterday something to that effect, assuring their followers that they will continue to pressure SeaWorld to phase out all live animals at the park.The new CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby does not come from a zoological background, nor do any of the board of directors that manage this publicly traded company. So it’s possible that they just see this as a stepping stone to an entirely different park. Only time will tell. One thing is certain though, an animal based attraction or facility can’t be a publicly traded company. If Blackfish had occurred, and SeaWorld had been a privately owned company, as it has been in the past, it would have had time to re cultivate its image and lick their wounds to emerge another day. However, the high expectations of Wall Street don’t allow for years of down revenue, and they are certainly not symatheic to ideological battles with animal activists.
So when it is all said and done, who wins? Not SeaWorld’s fans who love the theatrical shows. Not future generations of children, who may never get the opportunity to see an Orca up close. The whales don’t win, a population with no further breeding means inevitably there will be whales forced to live alone. This also appears to be the end of the amazing proposed Blue World project which would have created immensely huge whale exhibits, provided natural currents for the whales, and created an immersive experience for guests. The only clear winner I see is HSUS, they got part of what they wanted, come out looking like heroes, and now have a direct line to the CEO to ask for further concessions down the line.
So the final question becomes, “What do we as animal people or zoo lovers think about SeaWorld after this”? For myself, I still 100% support the animal care staff at SeaWorld because this is in no way their fault, and not what they wanted. Most of them likely knew nothing about it until the announcement was made. They are as innocent as the animals in this unfortunate series of events. The corporate team at SeaWorld on the other hand, I have lost all respect for, and I have voiced my concerns and disappointment to the company. I encourage all of you to do the same, let them know how you feel about this. At the end of the day, I will most likely continue to visit SeaWorld Orlando as long as the whale shows are in their current format, because I love them. However once the changes take place, I doubt I will be back, as the magic that is a Shamu show will have faded into the past. If you have seen a Shamu show, you know that there is really nothing else quite like it.
Above all else, please remember that HSUS is a radicle animal rights group and no matter who they partner with, that is still true. Their eventual goal is the end of zoos, which as you know will mean certain extinction for many species, that rely on human intervention and care to survive. SeaWorld provided the world with the amazing gift of bringing millions of people up close to Killer Whales. Amazing creatures who’s wild populations are declining rapidly. So there is a chance that in 100 years, if our oceans continue to be polluted, that there may not be any Killer Whales left in the wild. There would have been an amazing assurance colony in place at SeaWorld, but instead they chose to manage their whale collection into extinction.