The announcement I made yesterday with SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby about the end of any breeding of the company’s orcas, its shift toward a rescue-and-rehabilitation strategy for other marine mammals, a change in its food service policies, and more, has been reverberating across the world. It’s a big moment in the life of that company, but also in the forward progress of our movement.
In editorials today, the Los Angeles Times called the announcement from SeaWorld “a smart, humane change,” while The Tampa Bay Times, the largest newspaper in SeaWorld’s home state of Florida, said, “The company smartly worked with the Humane Society to set its new policies.” Wall Street investors and analysts seem to agree. As I post this, SeaWorld’s stock is up 17 percent since yesterday’s opening price. Wells Fargo raised its rating of SeaWorld stock from “market perform” to “outperform,” noting, “We believe [SeaWorld’s] announcement to sunset orcas at its parks along with the new Humane Society of the United States relationship provides both a data based and intuitive based path to improved attendance, revenue and EBITDA.”
For me, this public applause and the favorable market response support the core thesis of my forthcoming book, The Humane Economy: businesses that do right by animals have the potential to surge, while businesses clinging to old practices or fighting animal welfare reforms face enormous risks and controversies.
I spoke with a few people who’ve been immersed in the fight for captive orcas about yesterday’s announcement, including author David Kirby, who wrote Death at SeaWorld, and Naomi Rose, my former colleague and the marine mammal biologist featured in Kirby’s book. They are both thrilled about this progress involving SeaWorld. Several members of Congress who have been leading the fight to protect captive orcas – Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Jared Huffman, and Rep. Adam Schiff – all made statements applauding the decision.
I also spoke with Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of the film “Blackfish,” which had such an impact on public discussions surrounding the use of orcas in theatrical shows. Here’s our Q&A:
WP: How did you feel when you heard the news that SeaWorld was giving up its orcas? Did you have an expectation that a sweeping decision of this kind would eventually come?
GC: I was stunned. It was definitely clear that they simply couldn’t spin their way out of the crisis any longer so I imagined they were doing something. But I thought it’d be another attempt to rebrand their image. But they chose something massive. Breeding of orcas is at the epicenter of their entire culture and more importantly, their business model. And they chose to do away with it. So I believe this is a total game changer.
WP: Is there one element of this decision that you are most excited about?
GC: I am inspired by the promised investment of $50 million dollars into the rescue and release of animals and a range of marine mammal advocacy efforts. Our oceans are getting sicker and most places don’t have the infrastructure to care for sick animals on a massive scale. So to think that a multi-billion dollar company is going to lend its resources to this industry is seminal.
I hope this is the first announcement of many. And that this is a portal of entry into future conversations. But for now, I think it’s important to acknowledge this pivotal shift they’ve made. The idea that we just got closer to caring about the same things, speaking the same language, is pretty massive progress.
WP: Is there any chance you’ll turn your creative talents to focus on some other form of animal use?
GC: Hah! Film or no film, this issue is part of me now so I hope to continue shepherding the message as best I can.