It seems to me that SeaWorld could’ve saved itself some future problems if it had reconsidered this conversation from 40 or so years ago:
“OK team, we want to bring whales to the park. We’re going to put the giant whales in tanks with humans and have them perform tricks together, largely for huge crowds of families with children. Any suggestions on what type of whales we should get?”
“Uh, how about killer whales, Larry?”
Controversy has smothered the summer fish circus SeaWorld since CNN first aired the combustible documentary Blackfish a few months ago. (I first typed “searing documentary” but couldn’t abide the unintentional fish pun.) The film makes a passionate and riveting case against SeaWorld’s captivity of orcas, the massive killer whales that have drawn hundreds of thousands of people to its parks for decades.
As part of the swift, fervid backlash against SeaWorld, many musicians backed out of a summer SeaWorld concert series. Several celebrities have spoken out on record, including this scathing indictment by whale-cocked drumstick-twirling marine biologist Tommy Lee:
It’s almost impossible to watch Blackfish without at least questioning the wisdom of keeping the big fish captive for our entertainment. You don’t soon forget harrowing scenes of orcas turning on trainers and dragging them to the depths of the tanks. As damning the movie is, I always maintain some skepticism when people with a specific and personal agenda attack something. There is always some truth in the middle that they distort or ignore. I’m sure there are many good people at SeaWorld who really do care about the well-being of the animals in the parks. In fact, I am certain that SeaWorld cares. Here’s how I know:
Which brings this meandering post to its elusive topic: SeaWorld’s insulting, annoying and staggeringly inept response to Blackfish. SeaWorld seems determined douse a brush fire with kerosene until the entire forest burns to ash.
SeaWorld defends itself with an aggressive, name-calling assault, partly in the form of incessant pay-promoted tweets such as this one:
Wow! Way to do everything wrong SeaWorld! I have no idea what communications agency SeaWorld works with, but either the agency is giving poor advice or SeaWorld executives are so blindly angry that they are forcing the issue. This fails in every way possible.
1) It’s defensive. SeaWorld sounds like a guilty politician caught fucking the housekeeper, reacting with indignant and angry denial.
2) It’s dismissive. Blackfish worked. It fueled real emotional responses for a wide audience of people. Now SeaWorld opts to insult those people for being naive to “propaganda.” If you make someone mad, then call them stupid for being mad, you just make them that much less eager to forgive you or even listen to you.
3) It’s self-defeating. SeaWorld has done more to promote Blackfish than anyone besides CNN. SeaWorld has introduced the controversy to countless people who had probably never heard of it to begin with.
4) It’s pedantic. Here is SeaWorld’s lengthy response to Blackfish. The movie grabbed attention with vivid, emotional and sometimes tragic human and animal stories. SeaWorld responded with a manifesto that reads like a labyrinth court deposition. SeaWorld splits semantic hairs and haggles over chronology and minutiae that won’t sway opponents and will likely inflame neutral observers. Case in point:
The film depicts a killer whale collection in Washington State that occurred 40 years ago. It leaves viewers with three false impressions: (1) that SeaWorld continues to collect whales from the wild to this day; (2) that Tilikum himself was collected by SeaWorld; and (3) that the collections done four decades ago were illegal. None of this is true. SeaWorld does not collect killer whales in the wild, and has not done so in over 35 years. Tilikum was not collected by us. And the collections four decades ago were conducted in compliance with federal laws, pursuant to federally-issued permits at that time.
Thanks, SeaWorld! Now I completely understand why those whales have sad floppy fins and drag your trainers to their terrifying deaths in your torture pools! No one who watched Blackfish will be moved or fooled by this turgid barrel of words.
5) It’s annoying. This will probably end up being the longest post I’ve ever written here. Not because I’m an activist for the cause. It’s because SeaWorld annoyed the shit out of me. It’s relentless, aggressive tweets irritated me so fiercely that I first started responding to them on Twitter, and then took to writing this rant that at least 17 other people will see. Aim at foot, pull trigger, SeaWorld!
I found Blackfish compelling, and at times sad and terrifying. But I’m not a someone who thinks about SeaWorld much to begin with. I’m middle-aged with no kids. I hyperventilate and explode in hives just passing through the Orlando airport, filled with loud, overpacked huddles of sugar-and-Mickey-bloated families navigating the airport as if it’s a corn maze.
So I’m not someone who would have ever even considered a trip there. Blackfish would’ve likely drifted to the back of my consciousness. Except SeaWorld just wouldn’t let it.
So, SeaWorld, here is the lesson of the title you should heed. Given your noisy, belligerent and self-destructive response, what you should have said was nothing. (Impatient viewers skip to the 3:40 mark.)