Photograph by SeaWorld San Diego, AP

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Two orcas perform at a whale show at SeaWorld in San Diego, California.

Photograph by SeaWorld San Diego, AP

Schoolchildren and Musicians Boycott SeaWorld in "Blackfish" Flap

A field trip is called off and acts cancel gigs in growing controversy.

This has been a rough week for SeaWorld.

The aquatic parks company is facing a rising backlash and controversy over the recent documentary film Blackfish, a critical look at SeaWorld's treatment of its animals. This week, a California school canceled a long-standing field trip to SeaWorld after a student was upset by Blackfish.

For years, fifth-graders at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School in Malibu, California, have taken an overnight trip to SeaWorld San Diego. But this year, a 10-year-old named Kirra Kotler reportedly told her parents and teachers that she didn't want to go, after seeing how the film depicted the park's treatment of whales.

"She's very passionate about animals," the girl's father told the media.

The trip cancellation comes on the heels of announcements by several prominent musicians that they are pulling out of upcoming gigs at SeaWorld parks. Those acts include the Barenaked Ladies, Martina McBride, Heart, Cheap Trick, Trisha Yearwood, Willie Nelson, and REO Speedwagon.

Willie Nelson said of his decision: "What they do at SeaWorld is not OK."

On December 7, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson tweeted, "Heart has chosen to decline their forthcoming performance at SeaWorld on 2/9/14 due to the controversial documentary film 'Black Fish.'" Nancy tweeted, "The SeaWorld show was planned long ago as an Orlando show. Had we known, we'd have said no then. We said no today. Love you all."

Tweets and Stocks

A pair of petitions currently targets two musicians who still have shows planned at SeaWorld Orlando in March, Justin Moore and Scotty McCreery.

On December 11, rocker Joan Jett wrote a letter to SeaWorld president Jim Atchison, objecting to the fact that her song "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" was being used as opening music "for its cruel and abusive 'Shamu Rocks' show."

"I'm among the millions who saw Blackfish and am sickened that my music was blasted without my permission at sound-sensitive marine mammals," Jett wrote. "These intelligent and feeling creatures communicate by sonar and are driven crazy in the tiny tanks in which they are confined."

In response to the controversy, Dave Koontz, SeaWorld's communications director, told National Geographic via email that Blackfish is "inaccurate, misleading, and paints a distorted picture of SeaWorld and our animal care program."

Koontz said he is not aware of any other school cancellations in response to Blackfish. He called the Malibu school's decision "disappointing," and wrote that "each year at SeaWorld San Diego, more than 15,000 school children participate in our camp and sleepover programs; nearly 100,000 students participate in our in-park educational field trips; more than 40,000 visitors take advantage of our behind-the-scenes public educational tours, and tens of thousands of guests participate in our animal interaction programs—each leaving the park with experiences that would be difficult or impossible to replicate with video or in books."

Surveys show that those visitors are more likely to care about protecting animals, Koontz said.

SeaWorld Response

In response to the band cancellations, SeaWorld spokesperson Nick Gollattscheck told National Geographic, "While we're disappointed a small group of misinformed individuals was able to deny fans what would have been great concerts at SeaWorld, we respect the bands' decisions."

Gollattscheck added, "The bands and artists have a standing invitation to visit any of our parks to see firsthand or to speak to any of our animal experts to learn for themselves how we care for animals and how little truth there is to the allegations made by animal extremist groups opposed to the zoological display of marine mammals."

Gollattscheck said his company has seen "no impact on attendance" from Blackfish.

Leilani Munter, a race car driver and environmental and animal advocate, tweeted on December 19 that the Blackstone Group sold a large number of shares in SeaWorld on the day before: specifically, 19,500,000 shares worth $563,062,516.

Munter tweeted:


Building on Protests

In November, the activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protested the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade because it included a SeaWorld-themed float. Backed by a petition with more than 50,000 signatures, PETA said in a statement then, "The float, which depicts free orcas frolicking in the ocean, is in stark contrast to the 35 orcas who have died in SeaWorld's cramped tanks. The parade has always been about enjoyment and awe, so Macy's shouldn't be celebrating the lives and deaths of the animals imprisoned at SeaWorld."

In August, Kenneth Brower wrote an opinion piece for National Geographic about Blackfish. He praised SeaWorld for some of its conservation and rehab work but criticized it for its keeping of orcas, especially Tilikum, the whale that "crushed, dismembered, and partially swallowed" SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. (Tilikum had already been implicated in two other accidents with human beings.)

Brower called Blackfish "an indictment of SeaWorld, its safety practices, its animal husbandry, its mendacity, and its whole reason for being."


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