More Impressions on ‘Massive‘ SeaWorld-HSUS Announcement, Including From ‘Blackfish‘ Director

By on March 18, 2016 with 2 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

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.


Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Viivi Senghore says:

    Dear Mr. Pacelle,

    I am truly alarmed to learn that this video has been released;

    I would like to point out,
    – The HSUS was working with the Free willy project, but now claims with SeaWorld that the project was a failure, while numerous prominent international experts and scientist are proving the exact opposite, including Jean Michelle Cousteau.

    > Never in the history of mankind has an orca born under human care
    survived a release to the wild. The most famous case is Keiko, the whale
    from “Free Willy.” Even though Keiko was born in the wild and millions were
    spent preparing him for release, after being released he died from
    pneumonia and starvation.

    – As a not a scientist myself, even I can say that there IS no science on anything until it has been tried and tested. I strongly hoped that this merger with SeaWold, HSUS would have had the courage with foresight and worked towards such sanctuaries with the ample scientific resources that HSUS has in it’s fingertips, together with the funding and knowledge of SeaWorld. Would that not make even more business sense than sticking to the outdated model of watching whales die away in concrete pool? I strongly doubt that the public will pay to see such “enriched environment”.

    > Even Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, CA, who has been an
    outspoken critic of SeaWorld, recognized that science doesn’t support the
    use of sea cages.

    – I am most disappointed that HSUS and SeaWorld are not maximizing this unique opportunity to grow with the present change of an international attitude away from whales in a tanks, with or without circus acts. As a mother and a dedicated fan of whales, I would pay to see a happy whale, retired in a natural sea pen, respected for the beauty, awe and inspiration they give all of us. I strongly urge sea World and HSUS to rethink their statements.

    Yours Sincerely, Viivi Senghore
    Finland, now a dolphinaria free country

  2. Vickey Caldwell says:

    I am shocked the HSUS, is basically reinforcing the captivity of Dolphins at SeaWorld!!?? As a supporter of HSUS, I am deeply disappointed that HSUS is partnering with SeaWorld as they continue doing what they have always done and that is exploiting Orcas and other Dolphins for profit and NOT working toward a natural sanctuary for these intelligent, sensitive animals.
    This action is giving the green light to all people to continue supporting SeaWorld’s abuse and exploitation of Dolphins and other animals that now are born into a unnatural environment. Shame on you HSUS for partnering up with a Corporation that has stolen animals from the sea and used them for profit!

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