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SeaWorld, the saga continues . . . again

Yearning to be free.
Yearning to be free.Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images

So here's some good news about SeaWorld. The company's stock is tanking and they admit animal rights protests are driving customers away. Finally, the public is starting to take action against SeaWorld for using its marine mammals for the primary purpose of making a buck. They're starting to realize that exploiting marine mammals for financial gain is certainly not in the best interests of the animals.

According to journalist David Kirby, "SeaWorld rocked the financial world and thrilled animal rights activists . . . when its stock price dropped by 35 percent to a record low after the company announced that attendance at its water parks this year has fallen 4.3 percent." For a company so much in denial over the years, this is shocking news. After all, profit oriented corporations want to make money and if not their product line is considered a liability.

Wrote Kirby, "The idea that SeaWorld would regard Shamu as a financial liability would have been almost unthinkable a short time ago, despite the fallout from the documentary Blackfish, which scrutinized the company’s treatment of captive killer whales. In the wake of the film, a string of musical acts canceled performances at SeaWorld parks, and Southwest Airlines recently terminated its 25-year marketing partnership with the company." Times they are a changing.

For a long time SeaWorld had the chance to do the right thing, but the company has always fought the urge to be anything more than a money grabber as its top priority. Said marine mammal scientist and a prominent captivity opponent Naomi Rose (Animal Welfare Institute), "I’ve been watching the stock price fall all day—it’s been shocking. SeaWorld should take this as a chance to do the right thing and change its business model. Otherwise the market will force it to change—and the company and the animals will suffer for it."

SeaWorld knows it is on the wrong side of the public relations battle. In response to the Orlando Sentinel story on its declining stock, one reader commented, ". . . SeaWorld is so outdated and cruel. Drugging orcas, keeping them in small tanks and making them perform unnatural tricks is cruel and wrong. About time people finally woke up."

SeaWorld knows the documentary "Blackfish" was a real catalyst in waking people up. In another Orlando Sentinel story, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. CEO Jim Atchison admitted his company should have done more to counter the film and its message. Said Atchison, "In hindsight, yeah, we probably do, because the movie was so misleading, so full of falsehoods and so unfair in its framing and characterizing of what we do and how we do it and even our history." If you want to point to unfair, how about being a captive mammal in an artificial prison created by a corporate mogul at the expense of your well-being not theirs?

SeaWorld may feel they have been victimized by the so-called "falsehoods" in "Blackfish", but the reaction of others certainly continue to disagree. In a Care2 story, another reader commented, "It's really sickening that SeaWorld can be so cruel, as to capture these whales, separate them from their mothers, and confine them in a small pen, and force them to perform tricks for people, so some CEO can make millions, while these poor whales live out their lives in a prison. SeaWorld should be shut down, and sued. It should be illegal to confine any whales or marine mammals to captivity."

However, despite all the negative publicity SeaWorld is not giving up on keeping marine mammals in captivity. Instead, SeaWorld proposes to expand the prison cells they keep their captive whales locked up in. According to an Orlando Sentinel story, "Wounded by controversy over keeping killer whales in captivity, SeaWorld Entertainment is embarking on a pricey project designed to give its orcas more room to roam. The company said . . . it will nearly double the orca habitat at its three SeaWorld parks, starting in San Diego, where the project should be completed in 2018. Executives said expansions in Orlando and San Antonio should follow by the end of the decade."

So the answer is to expand their prison cell and that's supposed to make everything right? Neither People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) or the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) buys into SeaWorld's response and neither should you.

In reply to SeaWorld's announcement, PETA released the following statement, "This is a desperate drop-in-the-bucket move to try to turn back the hands of time at a time when people understand the suffering of captive orcas, and it will not save the company. What could save it would be the recognition that it needs not to make larger tanks but to turn the orcas out in seaside sanctuaries so that they can feel and experience the ocean again, hear their families, and one day be reunited with them. A bigger prison is still a prison."

AWI issued this statement, "The proposed expansions of the orca enclosures, while a small improvement from the existing tanks, are nonetheless inadequate to meet the welfare needs of these animals due to their size, intelligence, means of communication, and family ties and relationships. Furthermore, if the new exhibit is built in close proximity to the current Shamu Stadium, the construction activity and noise will disturb the orcas for years. This will no doubt increase chronic stress levels significantly.

Unless and until SeaWorld ends its orca breeding program and ceases its exploitation of orcas for entertainment purposes, AWI believes the whales at SeaWorld will continue to suffer. SeaWorld Entertainment’s tumbling stock prices are evidence of a growing public awareness that captive orcas suffer in captivity. SeaWorld should evolve with the times, close these exhibits, and instead focus on its existing work with stranding networks and pursuit of accurate conservation education.

If SeaWorld’s expansion plans will involve cost cutting elsewhere, then we have further cause for concern. When one is just talking about employees, needing to cut costs is concerning enough, but SeaWorld has the welfare of many difficult-to-maintain wildlife species to safeguard."

Others believe animal activists desire to release captive animals back into the wild is not without perils of its own. Author and former SeaWorld trainer Mark Simmons is skeptical of PETA and other "fringe activists". He believes those ". . . who work with, study, rescue and care for animals know that nothing will ever satisfy these groups, short of turning loose any and all animals in human care."

Simmons is emphatic on what this will lead to. He wrote, "Let me be clear: Blindly releasing zoological whales into the wild is a dangerous, irresponsible approach that would imperil not only those animals but the future of all wildlife." He further states the "Free Willy" project (to release Keiko the whale many years ago) ". . . was led by animal-rights activists who were not only ill-prepared to manage such an undertaking, but were unrelentingly focused on a single outcome – releasing Keiko to the wild – despite overwhelming evidence that this whale could not survive there. Sadly, Keiko suffered a slow and physiologically punishing death at their hands."

We guess the word freedom is not a part of the zoological/aquarium equation according to Simmons perspective. He seems to feel we just don't understand the vital role captivity plays in the absence of freedom for marine mammals.

According to Simmons, "What most people don't understand is that zoos and aquariums play a critical role in the health and well-being of animals in the wild . . . Their work helps us understand species' physiological and cognitive needs so that when the time comes to help these animals in the wild, we're ready . . . It's only because of these organizations' missions that animals in the wild have a chance of survival." Be it a stranded marine mammal, or an oil spill, Simmons extorts that zoological facilities will be leading the charge to help these animals survive.

We can't say that facilities like SeaWorld and other zoological facilities don't help in rescue and recovery missions because they do. We have acknowledged that before, but we can also continue to stipulate that the primary concern for profit making business entities like SeaWorld is the almighty dollar not what is best for the animals held in their captive water cells.

As noted by Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab, "Public opinion about orcas in captivity has evolved . . . It seemed almost as if all of the bad publicity surrounding SeaWorld finally built up enough pressure to spring a leak in the stock of a company that went public just 17 months ago . . . SeaWorld is losing the public-relations war."

Often evolution has its own cycle and we can only hope that cycle for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals has evolved enough for people to want to see them free of captivity not beholden as prisoners to corporate greed.

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Want to hear some more really good news? Houndhaven, Inc., an animal rescue organization located in Minneola, Florida, has just rescued their 1000th dog.

Called a "monumental milestone" by The News Leader, Houndhaven ". . . believes that all lives are precious and created a strictly no-kill organization. Houndhaven rescues dogs and puppies from euthanasia at kill shelters. No expense is spared to save the lives of these special animals, especially since so many of them have come from situations of neglect or have never known the feeling of a tender touch."

Organizations like Houndhaven make a real difference in the lives of animals in our communities. So adopt, donate or volunteer and you'll know the feeling of satisfaction that comes with helping an animal in need. To contact Houndhaven, visit their website at www.houndhaven.org or email them at houndhaveninc@aol.com.

Congratulations to Linda and all her volunteers for a job well done!