In August, we shared SeaWorld’s fight againstBlackfish, a documentary that threatens the marine park’s reputation as wholesome family entertainment and a safe place for animals. The film is attracting new attention this week, with an airing on CNN that earned the top spot in key demographic ratings. SeaWorld is, understandably, not happy about the film’s reprisal on a major news network, but as far as we can tell, the organization has suffered little backlash.
Though Blackfish‘s CNN debut was huge, as the highest ranking CNN film this year and the second most mentioned cable program on Twitter, investors aren’t shaken, and SeaWorld has found major support from conservation leaders. Jack Hanna, who lead trainer Dawn Brancheau’s memorial at SeaWorld following her death, called the film “emotional” in an interview with CNN.
But at the same time, Hanna explains, “you have to touch the heart to teach the mind,” and he doesn’t think that Blackfish teaches the mind. But does SeaWorld? He indicates that SeaWorld pushes awareness of killer whales, which supports their conservation in the wild.
“Killer whales back in the oceans 40 years ago, no one knew who they were, or what they were. They’re out of sight, that’s out of mind.”
Further, Hanna says that he will still continue to visit SeaWorld parks.
“The people who work at these parks are people who love these animals probably just as much as they love their families.
I will continue to take my kids, their kids, and hopefully, their kids’ kids, three generations going there. I wouldn’t if I thought one animal was being mistreated, or wasn’t, so to speak, “happy.” Animals seem happy. They are breeding, they are eating.”
Vice president for zoological operations at SeaWorld San Diego Michael Scarpuzzi also spoke out against the documentary in an op-ed with CNN. Scarpuzzi identifies Blackfish filmmakers as “individuals who have chosen not to honor [Brancheau’s] memory, but rather to use the events of February 24, 2010 (the day of trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death), to advance their own interests.”
Scarpuzzi insists that Blackfish focuses on a small number of incidents, blowing them out of proportion when considering all of SeaWorld’s interaction with killer whales. He also says that the film fails to highlight all of the good things that SeaWorld has done for killer whales and other marine animals.
“Anyone approaching this subject in good faith must recognize a simple fact: Our staff has interacted with killer whales — for veterinary care, training, shows, educational presentations, husbandry, exercise, play and enrichment — hundreds of times a day for nearly 50 years. The tragedy of Dawn’s death cannot and has not been ignored, but neither should the literally millions of safe interactions we have had with killer whales over that span of time.
“Blackfish” focuses on a handful of incidents over our long history at the exclusion of everything else. Not a single interview with a guest who was inspired and enriched by their experience with killer whales at SeaWorld. Not one visitor who left SeaWorld more aware of the need to preserve the world around them. Not one word about the thousands of ill, orphaned and injured animals rescued by SeaWorld or the millions of dollars we dedicate to supporting conservation and research.
There is no acknowledgment anywhere in the film of the great things SeaWorld does every day or the simple fact that our animals are healthy and passionately cared for.”
SeaWorld’s stock took a noticeable drop Tuesday afternoon, and bottomed out Thursday morning, presumably as the cable news circuit promoted the film. But instead of continuing to drop or remaining low, the stock jumped right back up again, reaching early Tuesday levels once again by mid-day Friday.
Though the impact of Blackfish will continue to develop over the long term, at this point, it seems that SeaWorld has managed to emerge from this particular battle with little damage. SeaWorld has continued to offer a level-headed response to the film’s allegations, and has even attracted the support of respected conservationists. Though dignifying this film with a response may have been a risky reputational call, it looks like SeaWorld made the right one and is coming out ahead.