SeaWorld Facing Huge Backlash After Blackfish Documentary Airs

Categories: Animal Planet

Flickr CC / Stig Nygaard
SeaWorld: Because the world really needs this crap.
In the past few years, two trainers have been killed by orcas at SeaWorld, leading to news headlines, federal hearings, and a growing awareness that hey, maybe it's not such a good idea to keep giant wild animals in tiny tanks and treat them as slaves for our entertainment.

This summer came the release of Blackfish, a documentary that shows the horrors of keeping killer whales in captivity. It features former trainers tearfully regretting their roles in harming the whales. The movie first made the rounds of film festivals, then aired on CNN over the past few weeks, resulting in growing backlash against SeaWorld.

This past weekend, demonstrators from Animal Rights Florida held a protest outside of SeaWorld's Orlando theme park, and late last week, the chairman of SeaWorld's board of directors dumped $1.3 million in stock (though he still has a lot more.). SeaWorld is a publicly traded company and is set to release its quarterly financial statements on Wednesday.

Also: Today, the theme park will go to the U.S. Court of Appeals asking for a reversal of citations issued by the Labor Department. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had cited SeaWorld after the trainer deaths because the company wasn't providing a workplace free of hazards that can harm or kill employees. SeaWorld -- whose lawyer in the case is the son of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia -- compared the risks of the trainers' jobs with NFL players who face injury or NASCAR drivers who drive fast. The company suspended in-water interaction between trainers and orcas while the case is being litigated.

According to MarketWatch, Goldman Sachs and investment firm Blackstone made millions in profits off of SeaWorld this year, after the company went public in April.

SeaWorld spokespersons say that the theme park is instrumental in education and conservation, but David Kirby, who wrote the book Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity, has argued that SeaWorld's contributions to science are minimal: "While SeaWorld is certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, meaning they meet minimum conservation requirements, during the several times I visited the park to research my book, I heard virtually nothing that would educate people about killer whales in the wild, how long they live, their social bonds, their hunting patterns, and ways to conserve their threatened natural habitats. Instead, I "learned" that whales like blaring music, roaring crowds, back-flips and French kissing."

See more photos from the weekend protest here.

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Follow Deirdra Funcheon on Twitter: @DeirdraFuncheon

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whateveryousay topcommenter

My gal has taken it upon herself to take care of her deadbeat drug addicted brother's kid.  We have annual passes to Sea World San Diego and take the kid there routinely and really enjoy the park.  There are a bunch of interactive displays that educate and inspire the little guy.  As you have probably guessed my gal is a saint and I'm a jack ass. So, being a jack ass I will say I know this Black Fish series on CNN tries to cast them in a bad light, but give Sea World credit where credit is do.  They are not running slaughter ships in the name of research like Japan.  No entity is perfect and I believe Sea World tries to do good.  Doing good costs money and they raise money by operating the parks.  Why doesn't CNN run a documentary highlighting how people get dogs and leave them on the side yard for the entirety of their short lives?  

Arabella Drummond
Arabella Drummond

If you saw the Blackfish documentary you would not visit this show again!! Sadly few of the trainers have a clue !!

funchey1 moderator editor

@whateveryousay to quote from the Market Watch piece: Buyout firm Blackstone Group BX -2.69%   filled all of these tanks with debt when it purchased SeaWorld from Anheuser-Busch BUD -0.97%  for $2.3 billion in December 2009. Blackstone put down $1 billion in cash and financed the rest.

The company today has more than $2 billion in debt, or as it warned in its IPO registration statement, “We are highly leveraged.” Despite this warning, SeaWorld’s IPO did very well, rising more than 25% to nearly $34 a share on its first day of trading. Part of the stock’s appeal, of course, was a promised 3% annual dividend.

None of the proceeds from the IPO went to any so-called “blackfish.” Much it instead went to Blackstone. The investment company said it would use IPO proceeds to pay itself $47 million for terminating its 2009 advisory agreement with SeaWorld. That’s on top of a $500 million dividend SeaWorld paid in March 2012, mostly to Blackstone. And another $110 million dividend in September 2011.

After all these deals, Blackstone recouped its cash and more than doubled its initial investment in three years. Meantime, it remains SeaWorld’s largest shareholder after the IPO.

Goldman Sachs GS -0.91%  also made millions of dollars in investment-banking fees from the IPO and said it would redeem $300 million in senior subordinated debt instruments it held in SeaWorld. That’s not a bad catch, even for a company nicknamed the “great vampire squid.”

funchey1 moderator editor

@whateveryousay Doing good is not the primary mission of this for-profit entity. Making money is.  It's not a charity that happens to also raise money; it's a business that might do *some* animal rehab as well.  

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