On Thursday, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment announced a series of changes that would alter the course of their parks path, put their stock on rebound, and cost them hundreds of thousands of loyal fans and supporters. The announcement came that the parks would stop their breeding program immediately, change the focus of the killer whale shows, and would focus on a new partnership with the Humane Society of the United States(HSUS). The move was seen as many as “the right thing to do”, especially activists who have been pushing for the closure of SeaWorld after the film Blackfish debuted. Fans and supporters felt betrayal. But why? Won’t this new partnership and path be the way to make the park more profitable? Possibly. We’ve listened to the fans and supporters, and have added our own experiences to the reasons why many are upset about the decision, but we’ve also listened to why this is ultimately a good thing.
In 2012, the film Blackfish was purchased by CNN and aired almost on a non-stop basis on the “news” network. The film pushed the idea that SeaWorld not only mistreated their animals, but also lead to the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. It was a huge success, and the amount of hate for SeaWorld mounted from all sides.
The anger towards the park, and the parks themselves, stayed relatively quiet until bands like Barenaked Ladies, and Willie Nelson announced they would cancel their upcoming shows at the parks, and that “what the parks do is wrong”. Did they watch Blackfish, and have a change of heart? Not remotely. Tens of thousands of protesters swarmed their Facebook pages, and signed petitions threatening to boycott and never buy their albums. It was a bully tactic, and a shallow threat as research had shown that the majority of the people threatening, had never been fans of those artists in the first place. It was a mob reaction…and it worked. Soon, just about every band that had been signed on to perform at SeaWorld had cancelled, and had cited the parks cruelty to animals as the reason…even the band Heart, who would go on to play at the San Antonio Rodeo just days later.
SeaWorld was in a bind. They did not want to publicly address the issue, because they did not want to add fuel to the fire. They also could no longer ignore the issue, as it was starting to affect park attendance, and profits. Still, besides a full page ad in newspapers, the park really showed no fight. But the fans did.
Groups like Stand With SeaWorld started to band together and fight back. They fought with words and love. They protested the protesters. Our site even stood up, pointing out the obvious flaws with the film and trying to shed light on some of the truth of the controversy. It wasn’t until MiceChat correspondent, Eric Davis stood up and exposed some truth about the film, that SeaWorld really started fighting back.
Why would the fans, bloggers and ourselves fight back against something that everyone else thought was the truth, and so damning to the park?
Because we knew the truth. We loved SeaWorld, we saw the good that the parks did. We saw not only the facts that the park rescued over 20,000 animals but we also saw that the world was a better place because of the connections that millions had made with the animals over the 50 years that the park was opened. While others questioned things like animal captivity, and releasing the animals to sea pens, we understood that the animals in SeaWorld’s care had to remain in SeaWorld’s care or they would die. Most of all, we believed that SeaWorld could fight back, and come back from this.
They did fight back. It was an uphill struggle, almost all the way. New CEO Joel Manby was very much on board with keeping the work that SeaWorld had done going, and kept pushing the fact that the pro-SeaWorld campaigns were working. As late as last month, the park had announced that attendance was slowly turning around, and that the loss of profits had stopped.
Mr. Manby believed in SeaWorld, and believed it could change slightly to make the world understand that they weren’t the bad guys. Until he didn’t.
The news came as a huge shock to the fan, and zoo community. SeaWorld was a leader in animal care. They didn’t have to be accredited by the same organization that governs zoos, but they were…every year. They didn’t have to help rescue and rehabilitate animals…but they did. Why would everyone be so upset at this news that was a huge leap forward?
Here’s five reasons:
- The Bad Guys Won: Groups like PETA, and the HSUS were pushed as the bad guys. They were the ones who wanted to shut down SeaWorld and end all captivity in the parks. In fact, PETA still does. Many fans saw the partnership as caving in to the “bad guys”. On top of that, this could be the start to a slippery slope. The HSUS has already declared on their Facebook and Twitter pages that the whales are just the beginning. They say they will focus next on the dolphins and sea lions.
- Contradiction: Just last month, Joel Manby said that the promotions were working. The public was starting to come around, it was slow, but they were starting to listen. SeaWorld is the leading caretaker of animals in the world, and people.were starting to believe it again. The park was fighting the prejudices against it, the company was standing up against the people who wanted to accuse them of doing wrong and show them “no we’re doing the right thing”. They were entertaining and educating. With the announcement, that message from just last month kind of means nothing. It’s a very mixed message that leads to our next point.
- The fight was useless: For many fans, they sacrificed a lot. They lost friends over their stance and support of SeaWorld. Personally, because of our articles, we had threats against our lives and our family. Our day jobs were at risk. It was a choice we made, and we don’t regret taking that stand. Many do, however. They see the partnership as the park selling out, and their time wasted. Was it wasted?
- The family will die: SeaWorld has made a huge point against activists in the past three years. All about family. The whales at SeaWorld are part of a defined family group, and that family is coming to an end. They are the innocents in all of this, and they will suffer. The cold truth of it, once the whales start to die off, and the reality sets in, the other whales (all of whom are a close family unit) could go faster than normal. Loneliness is hell. On top of that, what about the human family? Many trainers have been there for years, and have seen these animals as babies. For them, the animals they care for are part of their families, as much or more than family pet. It’s got to be heartbreaking from their standpoints as well.
- A World Without Shamu: Many fans have grown up with Shamu, and even more have been inspired by the animals and shows at SeaWorld. The park that they knew will be gone forever. Hell, it’s already changed immensely since 2010 when trainers were banned from the water. When the shows are gone, and the animals have passed away, what will be left? An ocean themed park without traces of the ocean? Maybe more coasters? We’ve had Shamu and company in our lives for 50 years. It’s like taking Mickey Mouse away from Disney.
While these are reasons that the fans are upset, it is really for the benefit of the company. Time does change, and sometimes the attitudes of the public really do dictate the business.
Here are six things to remember when trying to understand why SeaWorld has made the decisions to take the company in a new direction.
- It’s a theme park, not a zoo: Many people have this thinking that SeaWorld is only about animals. While they do take care of the animals they have, and they do spend a great deal of money rescuing animals, they are a theme park first and foremost. Theme parks, while can have a huge impact on people’s lives, exist for one reason. To make money. Zoos exist to educate. There are many amazing zoos out there, but not many zoos with roller coasters or rides. For that reason, SeaWorld has been an amazing place. You get the animal connection of a zoo, and the entertainment of a theme park.
- SeaWorld is a business: The other thing that people seem to fail to realize is that SeaWorld is a business. While you may want them to spare no expense, and take care of animals like a zoo, they are in the business to make money. While a zoo does make money, they are more connected to the education and conservation message. While SeaWorld does make great strides in conservation and education, when profits are down, shareholders aren’t happy. They have to find a way to make money, and keep the bottom line where it needs to be. It’s not greed, it’s business. SeaWorld is a business, and businesses are in business to make money. End of story.
- Animals are expensive: SeaWorld is one of the leaders in world class animal care. That kind of care is not cheap. They provide doctors, stimulation, filtration, and food for hundreds of animals across their parks every day. It’s not the nicest thing to think about, but that is a lot of overhead for a company. So, why not get rid of it.
- The General Public Doesn’t Care: Hate to sound harsh, but the gravity of the situation is this. On the left side you have the activists who want SeaWorld shut down. On the right side you have the supporters who want to keep SeaWorld open. In the middle you have everyone else, and they honestly do not care. They could give one single whale turd what is happening to some animals in a tank that they don’t go to see. That is, they don’t until you make a movie about them, and send a sad message about how the animals need to be free and how someone is abusing them. Then everyone cares, because no one wants to hear about abused animals. Once someone yells loud enough that animals are being abused, (true or not) then people start to avoid you like the plague. That’s bad for business. If it’s going to make everyone feel better, and come to your business..then you cater to the people who are yelling the loudest. Sure, the activists will never go to SeaWorld…despite what they say. BUT…you might get someone who was on the fence before to come. They might here “Hey, SeaWorld is doing away with the cruel shows” and decide that they can go after all. And they may LOVE it. That’s money in the bank for SeaWorld
- The ocean needs SeaWorld, and SeaWorld needs help: As a planet, we are going in a direction of no return. In the next 30 years, things are bound to get real bad. The oceans will play a huge part of that, and they are in trouble. Animals are dying off, pollution is taking over and the climates are being affected. SeaWorld helps bring attention to the oceans. They get people involved by doing beach clean ups, by calling in distressed dolphins and by bringing attention to the oceans. However, it’s an uphill battle for SeaWorld. They need to appeal to people, and they need people to take action. Who better to side with than with an activist. While the HSUS has been accused of being very hypocritical, and responsible for the deaths of millions of animals, they are in a very good position to turn any negatives into positives. They can actually encourage people to help SeaWorld! Instead of protesting, they can urge people to donate to some great causes that helps the environment and animals. Hell, they can even help organize clean ups, and animals rescues. They are after all the HUMANE SOCIETY. Will they? That’s entirely up in the air, but they can. Hopefully this new partnership puts them in the spotlight, and they do the right thing. After all, they’ve already said that SeaWorld is doing the right thing, they’ve acknowledged that SeaWorld is a good company. THEY’VE SAID IT! Now, let’s see them match SeaWorld’s efforts. If they do, this could be a step in the right direction for the entire planet.
- Don’t be mad at SeaWorld: It’s easy to get mad at SeaWorld for “caving in” or “selling out”. We were mad ourselves for a few days. But the truth is, SeaWorld is a business and has to change with the financial climate. The activists won, they yelled loud, and they got everyone’s attention. Be mad at the activists for telling lies, for falsely accusing, and for being all around a-holes. Don’t be mad at SeaWorld for doing what they have to do to survive.
In the end there’s both good and bad. The bad sucks, but the good is a step in the recovery of the park. Besides, things can change…just over two months ago the company was going to be expanding the whale tanks, now they’re getting rid of them altogether. It proves that you never know what can change, and when it will.