Bands cancelling out on obligations with SeaWorld due to Blackfish backlash


It started with Barenaked Ladies, then Willie Nelson joined in, and now Heart. All three bands joining together in the same cause…to not support SeaWorld. The reason? A movie. It’s a movie that has made a splash with armchair activists, and has brought what they think is a problem to light. Several of the bands are cancelling performances at SeaWorld Orlando’s annual Bands,Brew&BBQ festival citing that the film Blackfish is making them see things differently. Is it really that the bands are siding with the controversial film? Or could it be a lot simpler than that?


SeaWorld is home to amazing Killer Whales, and has a very successful breeding program in place. The park has not taken a whale captured in the wild in over 20 years

Blackfish is a “documentary” that tells the story of Tilikum, the largest Killer Whale in captivity and the biggest member of the SeaWorld family, and the circumstances involving the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. It is a CNN produced film, and premiered in select cities nationwide, made several airings on CNN (where it was it’s largest ratings draw) and has hit DVD. The film has drawn much criticism to the park, and has had several groups, including PETA call for a shutdown of the park. Now, several of the bands that have been signed on in recent months are backing out in support of the film, citing various reasons for the change.   What do they all have in common, however? Online petitions from, a site that specializes in thousands grouping together to make changes in the world, or in this case…bands.


Each band had petitions signed against them, urging them to not play their appearances at SeaWorld. So, is this truly a case of “not knowing” and opposing SeaWorld’s treatment of animals? Maybe.

While we here at BehindTheThrills have seen Blackfish, we have chosen to not speak out against it. We did not want to feed the machine by talking about something we do not support. Instead, we focused on what we have seen with our own eyes, and the good that they have done. We have personally worked with SeaWorld for greater than five years, going behind the scenes with many aspects of the park, including animal care. We have been on the beach when SeaWorld has released animals that other agencies have brought to them after sustaining injuries. We have seen SeaWorld take an active role not only in the safety of their animals, but also their trainers.

With all that we have seen, we have to disagree with the core message of Blackfish. While the film is very well done, and very believable, it is designed to spark controversy blindly. It does that very well. It skews facts, and takes things that happened decades ago as gospel, and ignores the changes in the park and the good that they have done. It fires up the minds of those looking for a cause, who want to sound smart by quoting something without doing the research. It ignores facts like the over 22,000 animals that SeaWorld has rehabilitated and released. It ignores the educational aspect that the park mixes with entertainment to make the guests more aware of the beautiful animals that we share our world with.

How many people have had their lives touched by SeaWorld and have been inspired to do something better for the world, simply by seeing these amazing animals up close? It’s the same mission that other zoos and other institutions have, which is to educate, inspire and preserve the world around us.

As for the performers who cancelled their shows because of a sudden urge to stop SeaWorld’s practices, it’s a bit funny that these same bands have been performing at SeaWorld for years now. However, it’s only after they were petitioned by thousands (most of which probably have no clue who they are, or would never own a Willie Nelson album), that their change of heart and perceptions come about.

To further prove the point, our colleague Eric Davis at did the research (with screenshots that have been withheld due to privacy reasons), and found that at the time of this article, there are fewer than 100 people on Facebook who “like” both Barenaked Ladies and BlackFish. Only three people “like” both BlackFish and Barenaked ladies that live in Orlando. There are more than 100 people who live in Orlando and “Like” both SeaWorld and Barenaked Ladies. Whereas for Willie Nelson, there are more than 100 people who live in Orlando who “like” both Willie Nelson and SeaWorld Orlando and there are only ten that “like” both Willie Nelson and BlackFish. While this is as about as far from a scientific study as most of what we’ve seen in the film, the point is that it’s not the legitimate fans who are protesting. In fact, those fans who were most looking forward to see either band will be the ones affected the most out of this.

Surely each group has done the research? Right? Not likely. The musicians most likely saw the large numbers of signatures on the online petitions, and only after their pocket books are threatened that they give knee-jerk reactions. Instead of taking the time out, and touring the parks themselves (as they were invited to do) to make an informed decision, they are giving way to a hype machine that does more harm than good. A

fter all, PETA is one of the biggest supporters of the film Blackfish…yet they are a SeaWorld shareholder, who actually profits from the very thing they say they fight against. Sure, they say it’s so that they have a voice in the way that SeaWorld does business, but the amount of stock they hold isn’t enough for a large enough voice to make a change…but it is large enough to pull a profit.

Update 12/9/13

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Joan Jett, is yet the latest to jump on the wave of hate bandwagon. Her song “I love Rock n Roll” was used in the Shamu Rocks show for years as part of the pre-show entertainment. Joan Jett has served SeaWorld with a cease and desist now, after the song has been used for years, with the claims that she is both disgusted, and had no idea her song had been used. The show made it’s debut in 2007, which means that Jett was clueless for the better part of six years, even after playing in the area several times during that course of time. Videos have been online of the show for many years, including this one:

The song is not an integral part of the show, and can be easily replaced.

Update 12-11-13

Cheap Trick is now officially the fourth band to cancel. The band has played SeaWorld in the past.  As the case with all the bands, the cancellation comes after an online petition and boycott threat reached large numbers. In a complete show of hypocrisy, Heart, who also cancelled earlier this week doesn’t seem to get how being an animal rights activist works. The band cancelled their SeaWorld appearance after being petitioned, stating that they don’t support cruelty to animals. The band is still scheduled to play at a rodeo and trade show in San Antonio some time in February of 2014.

With the new found interest in animal rights, they must be getting ready to cancel that show too… right? I think it’s only right that a petition be started for the band to cancel that appearance as well, as rodeos are notoriously cruel to animals involved. Any petition won’t likely be very successful, however, seeing there isn’t a big budget Hollywood film about the cruelty of rodeos.

We here at Behindthethrills have no opinion on rodeos. We are merely pointing out the hypocrisy of the situation.

Update 12-12-13

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Trisha Yearwood, who was not officially listed as a performer had cancelled. Yearwood had the date listed on her official website. A representative told

“In light of recent concerns, Trisha has decided to remove the Feb. 22 date from her upcoming tour plans.”

Like the others who have cancelled, this comes after a petition on urged the country singer to not participate.  Unlike others, Yearwood hasn’t said anything against SeaWorld. While she also hasn’t come out and said it was about the threat of a boycott either, “recent concerns” most likely mean the petition.
Update 12-13-13

It seems that fanatics aren’t satisfied with just going after bands. According to the focus has now turned to corporate sponsors, namely Coca-Cola. The company is being urged to pull out of their partnership with SeaWorld, which is the official soft drink of SeaWorld parks, Universal, Disney and Six Flags chains.
Coke, along with many other corporations usually don’t respond to threats of a boycott. The only way to get their attention is to actually boycott. Seeing that Coke is served nearly everywhere, that becomes a lot of places to avoid. It will be very interesting to see if Coke responds at all.

Speaking of corporate sponsors, our attention has been brought to an amazing and insiteful article by themed reality (click here to read it) which gives more thoughts about the whole situation and breaks it down a lot better than we can ever hope to.
Did you know that CNN owns the distribution rights to Blackfish? Did you also know that the parent company, Time-Warner owns stake in Six Flags which was in the animal business, specifically Orcas up until last year? Did you know that the same company owns Polar Express which is also in SeaWorld parks? Seems like a HUGE conflict of interest.

Themed Reality (click here to read this great piece) also points out what seems to be the true message of the film, which isn’t education but more assault, as countless “copy and paste activists” take to the internet to troll anyone who even mentions SeaWorld. Like Themed Reality, the effect seems only amplified after Blackfish airs. The tweets are often hostile, and regurgitate the same info that is shared in the film, which (at least in my mind) that the film isn’t really inspiring the need to educate, but instead instills anger and motivates people to nearly riot level frenzy.
Look, I’m not saying don’t watch the film, watch it…but do so with an open mind. As Themed Reality (seriously read this article) don’t take it as gospel. Use it instead to inspire you to educate yourself about the situation. Use the film as a way to get yourself interested in a cause, then learn as much as you can about that cause. Following something blindly is, usually, worse than following nothing.


Update 12-14-13

REO Speedwagon has announced via their Facebook page that they are cancelling their concert.

“Due to concerns regarding our February 16th appearance at SeaWorld, we have chosen to cancel the performance.”

None of the bands (as far as we have seen) have spoken publicly, or have blogged about it on their official website. This again seems to be motivated by the online petitions. REO Speedwagon has played SeaWorld in the past, as well as sister parks Busch Gardens Tampa, and Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The band also played this past year at the San Antonio Rodeo.  This once again shows that the bands weren’t concerned with the business practices of SeaWorld or animal rights in the past, and that it is only because of pressure and threats of boycotts that they are cancelling dates.

Update 12-14-13

And add another one to the list. Martina McBride has announced via her Facebook page that she will be cancelling her upcoming concert.

I’ve decided that given all the issues that have been aired recently, the time isn’t right for me to play at Seaworld. I have cancelled my scheduled performance at the Bands, Blues & BBQ event in March 2014.

You’ll notice one thing, however, that the bands and people who have cancelled have stopped speaking out against SeaWorld, and instead are hedging their bets by saying “due to all the issues”. They aren’t cancelling because of SeaWorld’s business practices, they are doing it because of the petitions and threats of boycotts. However, the group of bands in the past few days haven’t burned their bridges with SeaWorld, leaving the possibility open to reschedule at a later date. It seems these bands are realizing that this wave of fanaticism will most likely pass, and they are laying low until the smoke clears. Smart move.

In a completely unrelated note, the Australian government has announced a plan to kill sharks in areas close to swimming areas. The response comes after 11 people have been killed in shark attacks. This includes the endangered Great White Shark. There is ONE active petition on (at the time of this posting) that is asking the government to stop the killing of innocent sharks who are guilty of just being sharks. The rise in shark attacks are thought to be because of the rise in the seal population. Most shark attacks are due to mistaken identity.

Maybe instead of worrying about the practices of SeaWorld, (who helps to educate the public about not only Orcas, but sharks as well) the efforts would be better spent trying to keep the delicate balance of nature in check by not killing off one of natures evolutionary wonders in order to keep tourism along the beaches active. Just a thought.

Update 12-15-13

.38 Special was originally scheduled to play at SeaWorld next year. It seems that the band is either busy on tours, or spending the holidays with their families. Whatever the case may be, they have not responded to the petitions and Facebook posts urging them to not play SeaWorld. It appears that the lack of response by the band was enough to send the protesters and fanatics into a frenzy, as they bombarded the bands Facebook page with requests, angry speech and in one case, please and petitions against a veteran whom the band posted about on Veterans Day over a month ago. Yesterday the Facebook manager urged people to not voice their opinions about SeaWorld on a post about a fallen Navy Seal, Shane Patton. The post was released on Veteran’s Day and was a tribute to the man, and his family. Things were getting heated, as they always seem to do regarding SeaWorld, which caused much strife between the Facebook admin, and the family of the fallen soldier. What happened next was a big shock.

From the .38 Special Facebook Page

I am DONE!!!!! You people win. Some of you zealots have now managed to convince a relative of Shane that I and the band have chosen to use him as some kind of ploy or diversion. I posted his picture and story on VETERANS day to honor a TRUE hero and have spent the past few days DEFENDING him from people who have no respect or class and chose HIS post area to fight their battle against Seaworld.

How low can you people get??????? Obviously lower that I ever imagined you could go.

So you win. I have contacted the band and told them that I am done. I hope you are proud of yourselves for what you have done to the memory of Shane Patton.


What else is there to say? These are the tactics that the protesters have been using all along. It’s sad, and this post shows you what it’s really all about.

We are sorry for the loss of someone who obviously meant something to the band, and for the loss of his family.
Update 12-16-13
It seems the pressure was once again too much for .38 Special as the protesters once again poured on the excessive pressure.

Due to concerns raised by the CNN documentary “Blackfish,” 38 Special will be canceling its scheduled March 9th concert at Seaworld. We appreciate the outpouring of support and especially apologize to our Orlando fans. We will try and schedule another performance in your area in the near future.
The band wishes everyone a happy holiday season and look forward to seeing you all again in 2014.

The message doesn’t seem to support Blackfish, nor does it discount SeaWorld, so just chalk it up to giving in to “vocal minority”.
Once again, after research on Facebook, at the time of this posting, the band had more fans of both them AND SeaWorld than they did of them and Blackfish. While, once again, this isn’t irrefutable proof that people are just jumping on bandwagons, it does stand as a decent indicator of such.
The film has (in our opinion) succeeded in playing with the heartstrings of the viewers while presenting only half of the story, dated information, and half truths.

Update 12-16-13

First of all, if you either are a supporter of SeaWorld or you feel that the way they are being treated in the media is unfair, there is a chance to show your support by voting in the “Stars and Scars” polls and clicking “I like it”. In the end it means absolutely nothing, but it does show support for SeaWorld.

On another front, our friend over at has come up with an astounding list. This list isn’t meant to discredit Blackfish, as Joe completely wants you to read all the information that’s out there, see the film and make up your own minds. As do we. There is a lot of hype around this film, some of it coming from a very concerned place, but most of it coming out of a mission against the park.

With that in mind, here is Themed Reality’s 10 Things You Should Know About Blackfish

Realize that for the most part I am not critical of the film and it’s not my intent to discredit it.  I am an advocate for the humane treatment of captive animals, which is different from being an animal rights advocate.  In the end, SeaWorld will do what is right and I will continue to eat meat.

After reading through over a thousand postings on my blog and other websites, as well as comments on facebook and twitter, here are a few things I’d like to share about the film and its promotion:
1. Based on the large number of comments concerning content in the film that isn’t actually in the film, I’m under the impression that a lot of people commenting about it haven’t actually seen it.  Just like a lot of people commenting about my blog post didn’t take the time to read what I wrote.
2. Although Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of the film, claims she does not come from an animal rights background and that it was never her intent to make an animal rights film, this is indeed an animal rights film.  Advocacy films tend to end with images of common people working to make a change. Blackfish ends with footage of animal rights protesters at SeaWorld’s entrance.  in addition, Cowperthwaite has both embraced and been embraced by peta.
3. The neurologist who features prominently in the film, Dr. Lori Marino of Emery University, is Science Director for the Nonhuman Rights Project, a fact not disclosed in the film.  This organization’s mission statement is “to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,”which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”
4. There are two edits in the film that can lead to an easy misinterpretation of the facts.  The first is at the end of the film, where a charity run for the Dawn Brancheau Foundation and an interview with her sister about the Foundation’s work immediately follows the footage of animal rights protesters at SeaWorld’s entrance.  This gives the impression that the Foundation and her family support the removal of orcas from the parks, which could not be farther from the truth.  The family has and continues to refuse to discuss the issues of Dawn’s death and of orcas in captivity.
5. The second edit takes place near the beginning of the film.  Following footage of the 1970 captures in Puget Sound, which were done for Sea World when it was owned by the partnership of Milton Shedd, Ken Norris, David Demott, and George Millay, and mention of the Orca deaths during those captures (which has been documented for decades), the film mentions that Sea World switched their capture location to Iceland.  The film then immediately cuts to footage of Tilikum being captured in the North Atlantic.  I have seen numerous comments about SeaWorld capturing Tilikum and how his family died during the capture.  Sea World was not involved in the Tilikum capture and there is no evidence of orca deaths during that incident.  The entire third chapter of David Kirby’s book Death at SeaWorld dramatizes Tilikum’s capture and does not mention any orca deaths.
There are sites on the internet that provide the same sort of distortion. mentions in an article titled “Ten Things You Don’t Know About SeaWorld” that “Orcas that were at SeaWorld before 1972 were likely kidnapped from their ocean homes. For example,Tilikum, a 32-year-old orca, was captured at the age of 2 by a marine “cowboy.” Tilikum wasn’t taken from his natural environment because he was injured—instead, he was torn away from his family against his will and confined to a small concrete tank for a hefty profit.”
The piece fails to mention that Tilikum, who was captured in 1983, resided at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia until the park closed in 1992, at which time he was relocated to SeaWorld Orlando.  Many of Tilikum’s issues are the result of his treatment in Canada and not at SeaWorld.  Note that SeaWorld of Hurt is a website owned by peta.
6. All of the performers who have cancelled gigs at SeaWorld have and continue to perform at casinos.  These are institutions where large numbers of people are encouraged to perform addictive and potentially damaging acts of gambling in an enclosed environment without natural sunlight while having their judgement distorted by copious amounts of free alcohol.
7. Without CNN and now Netflix, public exposure to the film would be minimized.  Theatrically, the film only showed in 99 theaters (my market not being one of them) and made just over $2 million in box office receipts.  CNN continues to promote its ownership of the film. has posted a news piece each time a band has canceled its SeaWorld performance.  Each piece mentions both CNN as owning the film and having broadcast it.  For instance, the piece on REO Speedwagon states: “The fans became upset after watching the CNN documentary “Blackfish,” which first aired on CNN in October.”  CNN also has used the sensationalist headline “SeaWorld Fights for its Survival” for an on air segment about SeaWorld appealing the ban on trainer contact with whales.  As evidenced by the company’s recent expansions – Manta, Turtle Reef, Explorer’s Cove, Aquatica in San Diego, Aquatica and its expansion in San Antonio, and TurtleTrek, Antarctica, and expansions to Discovery Cove and Aquatica in Orlando – I’m pretty sure that SeaWorld is not dependent on human interaction with orcas for its future survival.  Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA also gives a good example of how a marine life/theme park can survive without orcas.
8. Although the switch from Anheuser Busch to Blackstone is discussed in the director’s commentary on the DVD, ownership of SeaWorld and ownership changes are never mentioned in the film itself.  This gives the impression that SeaWorld is under the same ownership and management now that it had been in the 1970’s and 80’s.  At the time of Dawn Brancheau’s death, Terry Prather was managing Water Country, a waterpark, in Virginia.  Prior to that, he was with Jazzland/Six Flags New Orleans and Six Flags America.  Before that, he was Managing Director of the prestigious Witte Museum in San Antonio.  Now, I’ll grant that Terry did work in maintenance and water quality at Sea World San Antonio from its opening in 1988 to 1997, but from knowing people in those fields at theme parks, I’m pretty sure that gave him an intensive understanding of the importance of safety.
9. If the footage of animal rights activists and Lori Marino’s testimony are removed from the film, it becomes a documentary about workplace safety.
10. One thing I learned early on in the marketing of attractions is that the key to successful marketing is to target mothers – they’re the ones who make all the decisions in today’s modern family.  And mothers feel sympathy for other mothers.  The filmmakers play on this in their publicity for the film.  Cowperthwaite frequently refers to herself as having been a “SeaWorld mom” who regularly took her kids to the park.  The producers of the film, Judy Bart and Erica Khan are described as moms who, once their children were grown, decided to start a production company to produce films that “both inspire and entertain.” (Not sure how all of Khan’s children can be listed as grown, when her bio mentions them as ranging from ages 10 to 25).  I’ve been unable to find anything about these two women.  Their production company, Our Turn Productions, is registered with LA County to a nice three bedroom home in Huntington Beach owned by a lawyer.  I have no desire to pursue this further, but there certainly is a question as to where these two women procured the funding for the production.
Other than the two edits and the lack of labeling of Dr. Marino that I’ve described above, I have no issues with the film.  It’s a good movie and I encourage you to see it if you’re interested.  But it’s not the definitive piece on the issue and I will continue to do research on the business, scientific, and historical fronts before I get to the point where I’m comfortable making an opinion on the matter.
And there you go.
*Update 1-6-13
In a very interesting turn of events, one of the trainers who was consulted on the film Blackfish (but not used in the final film) speaks out against the film. This Facebook Post (click here) from the “Network of Experienced X-Trainers” goes into details about how the makers of the film pretty much manipulated them and the information that was gotten to make a propaganda piece.
As a former animal trainer of ten years (seven of which were spent with orcas), I was hopeful that this film would prove more of an opportunity to constructively address the concerns surrounding captivity. As the layers of this onion were peeled away before me, I became disenchanted with the potential as the reality behind the scenes was revealed. Insight of experienced individuals, like that of Hargrove, Simmons and Ashdown, was swapped for the folklore of others’ barely registered presence alongside the whales.
The message is still there about animals in captivity, but the anger is more against the makers of the film for down playing many of the important things that SeaWorld does in favor of making a propaganda piece.
According to Naomi Rose, merely 1% of SeaWorld’s profits go towards rehab and rescue (May it be noted that, with the unreliable and inconsistent data this researcher has given us, I, personally, take this piece of data with a grain of salt), yet, has any money or will any portion of the millions being profited from this story go to supporting the very cause they are championing for? Or will it simply be parlayed into a down payment on a new house in the Hills? Maybe it’s already set for the next best story to be reenacted at the hands of a director incapable of revealing the whole truth. Rather, she is a master at orchestrating an agenda-based storyline based on many who have reliably misrepresented themselves and, therefore, misinformed the masses.
Pretty strong stuff from an actual trainer who was consulted, but never used…most likely because it didn’t fit the mold of what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish.
This goes hand in hand with what we’ve been saying throughout, be an activist, but do the research for yourself, and don’t buy into rhetoric.

Update 1-9-14
Our good friend Eric at Mice Chat sat down with Ex-SeaWorld trainer Bridgette Pirtle to talk about Blackfish. What she reveals aboit Blackfish is what we have been stressing all along. It’s inaccurate, it’s misleading, and it’s all about the money…or in this case The Oscar.

When Gabriela Cowperthwaite (one of the filmmakers ) found out that Bridgette would be speaking out about the film, Gabriela called Bridgette and reportedly told her to, “Please wait until after award season to criticize Blackfish.”

That’s just the surface, Dive in and read the entire article by clicking here.Bridgette isn’t a huge supporter of SeaWorld, and in fact says in thr article that animals should not be used for entertainment. This is an ex-trainer who loved doing work with the whales. This is an ex-trainer who only wanted to make sure her friend and hero, Dawn Brancheau, was represented properly. She wasn’t, and feels the same way we do, Blackfish isn’t the champion of truth that it claims to be.
Read the MiceChat article by clicking here!


Update 1-15-14

We wondered how long it would take the blackfishers to figure out that Busch Gardens was part of the SeaWorld family. It took over a month for someone to do enough research to connect the dots that the two companies are not only owned by the same people, but share the same mission of bringing people together with the world around them. It seems that with the growing number of trainers who actually worked with the whales speaking out, that the groups stepped up their petitions, and spread to bands at Busch Gardens.

From the official Busch Gardens Facebook page:

We’re disappointed to announce that the Beach Boys and Pat Benatar have cancelled their performances at Bands, Brew & BBQ this year. It’s disappointing that a group of misinformed individuals was able to deny thousands fans what would have been two great concerts, but we’re committed to bringing our fans a great festival.

While that is unfortunate, more trainers are speaking out about the inaccuracies of the film (click here to read about it all), and the true motivation behind it.

Also it seems that some of the bands are being left with holes in their schedules and are finding other areas to play at. Barenaked Ladies are now playing at Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras, whether or not this will have a positive effect or negative effect on crowds remains to be seen, but our readers have been vocal on Facebook, saying that while they support Universal, they will not support the band.

Also, CNN reported that Trace Adkins had cancelled his unannounced show at SeaWorld Orlando amid blackfish controversy. Mind you CNN is the company that released blackfish into theaters. However, it might not be as noble as all the supporters might have you believe. According to the New York Daily News, Adkins has been in recent trouble with the law and has entered into rehab. Hmmm….

It’s also worth noting that Adkins was one of the very first performers at what was then called “Band Bud &BBQ” before he became a household name.

Stay tuned for the latest, and be sure to follow along with us on Twitter @BehindThrills for the latest updates.

Educate yourself, and visit the official SeaWorld conservation site to see how SeaWorld Cares, by clicking here.