Friday, December 27, 2013

Dear SeaWorld

SeaWorld is squirming in the wake Blackfish's popularity this year. And with good reason: everyone is watching this documentary. 

It played repeatedly on CNN and is now popular on Netflix. The chilling testimonials in the film are causing thousands of people worldwide to change their minds about cetacean captivity. Among them are school children, who have unanimously decided to forgo annual field trips. A slew of musicians have also acted on their new found convictions by pulling out of an upcoming performance at the sea park: Barenaked Ladies, Heart, Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, REO Speedwagon, 38 Special and Trisha Yearwood. Joan Jett said she was "sickened that her music was blasted to sound sensitive marine mammals without permission." When little kids and rock 'n rollers plead for the fundamental reformation of your theme park, its a bit of PR nightmare.

SeaWorld insists that this controversy has not effected sales. Which doesn't exactly make sense considering they just poured a bunch of money into printing full page "open letter" ads in major magazines and newspapers. The objective of the letter is to invalidate the film. SeaWorld is doing everything they can to downplay the issue, minimize opposing voices by calling them "misinformed extremists,"  and claiming that Blackfish is basically isolated propaganda.

Here's the problem, though: the Blackfish Documentary did not invent the idea that Killer Whales suffer in captivity. Scientists and  activists have known that fact that for years. I became interested in the issue prior to the release of the film, reading books like Death at SeaWorld by David Kirby, which focuses on the work of scientist Dr Naomi Rose, or Behind the Dolphin Smile, which chronicles activism of former "Flipper" trainer Ric Obarry. I was stuck and then haunted by the words of Dr Paul Spong: "The primary thing we have learned from studying them in captivity is that they do not belong in captivity."

So no, Blackfish did not conjurer up some new conspiracy theory that no one had ever heard of before. What it did was make information accessible to the public; it shed light on a corner of our society that had been dim shrouded for so long. It is a loud cry echoing a truth that has been whispered for decades. And the thing about the truth is, once it's out there, you cannot scramble to once again hide it with an old lie. As the film's director said, "If you tell people the truth, they'll change the way they do things. They'll make powerful and dignified decisions."

SeaWorld says that they do not separate mother and calf, except in the case that a mother whale is "unfit." Yet, dozens of former trainers recall the specific separations made for theme park needs; the "Baby Shamu" tours around the US were verifiable and publicly documented. Not to mention, if they are going to blame the separation on "negligent mothers," why then, did SeaWorld continue to artificially inseminate a mother who was unable to care for her young? SeaWorld says the documentary exploits the death of Dawn Brancheau-- yet her colleagues, friends, and even sister appear in the film. The amount hypocrisy and half-truths provided by the park are not difficult to see through.

Basically, it comes down to a choice of who we are going to believe. We can either decide to trust the opinion of the countless marine biologists, neuroscientists, and researchers who say captivity is harmful for cetaceans, or we can trust the word of a theme park that gets its money keeping them captive. To me, its kind of is a no-brainer. 

Last weekend, Me, my husband, and my best friend Katelyn protested outside of SeaWorld. I am officially "one of those people." SeaWorld referred to us as a "small group of misinformed extremists," but I think they have failed to realize the diversity of the group calling for change, and underestimated how many of us there are. I do not consider myself particularly "extreme," nor are my opinions on this subject the result of some ignorant acceptance of media brainwashing. Not even a year ago, Jake and I were vacationing at SeaWorld. But something wasn't sitting right with me- my concions ached. I had a change of heart. And that's what my sign read to those entering the park- Have a Change of Heart.

So, in the spirit of open letters, in the case that anyone who reads this is currently employed or empowered at Sea World, there are a few things I'd like to say...

Dear SeaWorld: This is your moment. 

What you choose to do now is absolutely crucial. The public has been made aware that the needs of killer whales and dolphins cannot be sufficiently met in a theme park tank-- that these animals are indeed suffering physically, mentally, and emotionally-- and they will not stand for it. More people are becoming aware of this everyday. The cat is out of the bag. 

At this point, you have an important decision to make: you can either further demonize yourself in the eyes of the public by perpetuating the lie that cetaceans are unaffected by captivity, or you can do something incredible: you can lead the way in Killer Whale rehabilitation and release programs. What heroes, what pioneers you would be, if you took a stand by admitting that captive programs are need of reformation, and that you were going to be the ones to initiate it. By phasing out your artificial breeding program and introducing a sea pen for whale retirement, you would be the example for all other marine parks. This is still a lucrative business model: and one that benefits the creature as well as the company. It is true education, not mere entertainment. Most of all, this change could win you back the affection of the public- and spare you a shameful end.  It is my sincere hope that you make this noble choice, and are remembered well by history. 


  1. hello i saw you at the protest on 12'22 and your boyfriend/husband gave me your card!