As Stocks Plummet, SeaWorld Must Finally Respond to “Blackfish” Effect
Hoorary! The fallout from “Blackfish” continues.
First released in August 2013, the 83-minute documentary recounts the 2010 death of veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by an orca named Tilikum, a 12,000-pound bull.
More importantly, the film chronicles the life of Tilikum and the effects of keeping these predators in captivity; it challenges the very concept of keeping killer whales for entertainment, and implies that Tilikum had been driven to madness by captivity.
SeaWorld has flat out denied this possibility; the company continues to defend the practice of capturing and training killer whales and has lashed out over the film. However, nearly 21 million people watched the movie when it aired on CNN, garnering rave reviews and starting a huge backlash against SeaWorld.
In the latest turn of events, SeaWorld Entertainment’s stock fell 33 percent on August 13, in response to the company’s announcement of low second-quarter earnings. Analysts had estimated that SeaWorld’s earnings would amount to 59 cents per share in the second quarter, but the company fell short, reporting 43 cents a share instead.
Despite a boost from a late Easter, overall attendance at the company’s 11 parks increased just 0.3 percent. Visitors shelled out less money, too. Revenue dropped to $405.2 million from $411.3 million.
“The company believes attendance in the quarter was impacted by demand pressures related to recent media attention surrounding proposed legislation in the state of California,” chief executive Jim Atchison admitted in a statement.
A Huge Victory!
“Today is a great victory for dolphins and humanity — it also shows that socially conscious films like ‘Blackfish’ and ‘The Cove’ have power to change the World. I’ve been waiting for this day for ten years,” says Louie Psihoyos, the director of “The Cove.” “There will be no recovering for [SeaWorld] now — at least not while they have dolphins in their concrete bathtubs.”
The director of “Blackfish,” agrees.
“I don’t think SeaWorld speaks the language of ethics, of right and wrong. But they do speak ‘Revenue,’” said Gabriela Cowperthwaite. “This could spur meaningful, massive change on their part.”
So SeaWorld has promised it will change things. CEO Jim Atchison has told investors that the company plans “ground-breaking investments” and “additional new attractions.” SeaWorld has already invested $70m in its habitats over the past four years, so any new investment will have to be really big and more than just a sop to consumers.
Of course, we would really like to see SeaWorld end its killer whale training entirely, allowing the existing whales to live out their lives and to stop training new ones.
Why have Sea World’s stocks sunk so low?
Since the release of “Blackfish, a firestorm of debate has erupted, including this petition, asking Virgin to stop supporting performances at Seaworld, the world’s largest marine park operator.
Legal Challenges to SeaWorld
Care2′s Alicia Graef described in June how the tide continues to turn against SeaWorld, with members of Congress adding fuel to the fire with a letter criticizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failing to address regulatory upgrades for marine mammals in captivity for almost two decades.
Congressmen Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and 38 members of Congress called on the agency to take immediate action to adopt long-overdue rules addressing the care of captive marine mammals.
“Blackfish” has also sparked potential legal ramifications. Richard Bloom, the Assemblyman for California’s 50th district, and the chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Transportation, has introduced a bill that would require organizations to cease the park’s orchestrated shows featuring marine life performing. It would permit them only to keep killer whales captive for research, rescue and rehabilitation purposes.
And just two weeks ago, long-term partner Southwest Airlines decided to cut ties with the aquarium.
This is all excellent news for those of us who believe that SeaWorld’s operations should be outlawed.
Let’s keep putting the pressure on SeaWorld. If you care about the way these captive orcas are treated, please sign our petition calling on SeaWorld CEO Jim Atchison to stop giving drugs to these precious creatures.
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