YOU Shook Up SeaWorld
By Mark J. Palmer
International Marine Mammal Project
Earth Island Institute
SeaWorld has announced that their CEO Jim Atchison will step down on January 15th, getting a nice golden parachute of cash and a spot on the Board of Directors. A search will be made for a new CEO for the troubled marine park empire.
Here at Earth Island Institute, we can’t emphasize enough how important YOU were in this change. The power of the public to change recalcitrant industry has never been more strongly demonstrated.
Millions of you have taken the time and effort to email your concerns and sign petitions about SeaWorld and the cruel treatment of orcas and dolphins in captivity. Thousands have voted with their feet to stay away from SeaWorld parks, not buy a ticket, and go elsewhere. You successfully entreated businesses like Southwest Airlines to end their ties with SeaWorld, and you encouraged music acts like Heart and Willie Nelson to cancel their performances at the park. Many of you have taken your place in line at demonstrations against SeaWorld. All of this has had an effect!
Sure, the documentary Blackfish opened the floodgates of public approbation against SeaWorld. It is an excellent and hard-hitting documentary. But there are many documentaries that sink like a stone at the box office and never cause a change in actual business.
The strength of Blackfish comes from the use of former SeaWorld employees. They all showed a great deal of courage, risking a legal and media backlash from SeaWorld against them. They deserve our deepest thanks for their willingness to speak on the record.
Still, it was the public – YOU! – which has kept the issue alive in the media and on the ground.
Don’t ever forget this lesson!
The change in leadership may just be cosmetic at SeaWorld. We will have to see in the next few months whether the industry is willing to consider real changes to keeping orcas and dolphins in captivity. Alternatives such as retiring their animals, providing better educational information (and getting rid of all the hype), and considering putting orcas and dolphins in sea pens for their better health could all lead SeaWorld to be an industry leader and public hero.
Mr. Atchison, in a statement, said that he was sorry he did not fight the Blackfish-effect more strongly. This is just plain wrong. Killing the messengers, especially in such a ham-handed way as SeaWorld tried to do, is not the answer.
The answer for SeaWorld is to respect YOU the public and the orcas and dolphins in their care, and to really seek to end captivity of these intelligent, benign beings that we all love.
Until SeaWorld acts on that, we hope you will continue to stand with Earth Island Institute in opposition to captivity. YOU make all the difference!
Photo of SeaWorld Orlando Thank You Sign by Mark J. Palmer/Earth Island Institute.