Ever since the release of Blackfish ,Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary which showed the abuse killer whales go through, SeaWorld has been surrounded by controversy. The chain of marine-life-themed amusement parks has been facing numerous protests from animal rights activists who believe that they have been mistreating whales, dolphins, and other creatures for entertainment purposes. After Blackfish was released and was aired on CNN in October, the protests went mainstream.
Blackfish exposed SeaWorld’s role in whale kidnapping and abuse in hopes of becoming the 21st century animal rights documentary to inspire reform. According to the film, orcas are intelligent and emotionally complex creatures and to keep them caged in metal bars for entertainment purposes is wrong.
The movie shows how the whale families- otherwise known as pods- were hunted in their natural habitats, and how orcas were separated from their families – some whales being killed in the process. A seaman even recalls going on a calf hunt where one of them died – the orca had to be stuffed with rocks to make it sink to the bottom of the ocean floor. “It’s the worst act I’ve ever been part of,” says the seaman as he weeps at the memory.
Once captured, the orcas undergo “training” which entails them doing tricks on command or being punished with confinement and a lack of food. These harmful conditions lead to orca whales lashing out violently at their trainers. Blackfish raised the uncomfortable question of, “Should we even keep these orca whales captive for our entertainment?”
The horrible treatment of orcas caused outrage because though many people had a vague idea of the plight of orcas at SeaWorld; many people were uninformed.
“This was definitely a great film. Before the documentary all I knew was that keeping these orcas under captivity wasn’t good idea. But I didn’t know all the harm it was causing,” says Mindy Li, a junior in the Health academy.
This documentary has caused people to open their eyes and see the torture animals have gone through and work towards preserving these creatures in the wild.
Since the release of the film on Netflix on December 13th , the movie has been reviewed by 600,000 users, earning a perfect five-star rating and making it one of Netflix’s most popular programs. In light of all the attention, Seaworld public relations have suffered.
To make matters worse, The Orlando Buisness Journal asked their readers whether “CNN’s Blackfish documentary had changed [their] perception of SeaWorld?” Later that same week, 99% of the respondents had claimed that the film had done nothing to alter their opinions on SeaWorld. As the newspaper investigated, they found that a single IP address was responsible for 54% of the votes. This IP address turned out to belong to SeaWorld.com. SeaWorld in turn responded saying that employees had voted in support of the company and that it shouldn’t be cause for concern.
Media controversies weren’t the only thing SeaWorld representatives have had to deal with. On New Year’s Day, 19 people from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) were arrested for protesting in front of SeaWorld’s float and not letting the float continue to proceed in the Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. The protesters had attempted to stand in front of the float to delay its progress. On Facebook, protests continued as users left negative comments when SeaWorld posted photos of their floral float display.
Whenever a celebrity visits SeaWorld, they pose for photos with the animals, such as when Justin Bieber visited Sea World in 2010. However, over the past year, very few celebrities and entertainers have shown affection towards SeaWorld. Instead, the chain has been attacked by high-profile personalities on such as Olivia Wilde and Michelle Rodriguez. SeaWorld responded back on Twitter by posting a photograph of a whale, which stated, “SeaWorld recognizes the important bond between mother and calf.” But it seems that many Twitter users have made up their minds, as the comments on the pictures all stated that they should free the whales.
The controversy caused by Blackfish has hit SeaWorld where it really hurts: their wallet. Until they make a comeback, hope seems to be dying down.