My love of dolphins fueled my interest in their brothers and sisters of the sea. To satisfy my fascination, I've been snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands, whale watching off the coast of Dana Point, California, and almost nightly I tune into The Blue Planet to catch up on my knowledge of all inhabitants of the sea.
This being said, you might imagine how absolutely horrified I was when I first watched Blackfish—as most viewers were. The documentary about the controversial captivity of killer whales at SeaWorld opened up my eyes. All the signs were there. Those animals are depressed.
What price are these animals paying for our mere entertainment? Is the short-lived awe-factor really worth it? How long will we let this go on?
Joel Manby, SeaWorld's CEO, finally asked himself the same question.
On Monday, Manby announced a new plan in direct response to customers (a.k.a. the drop in attendance and income—a $10 million hit this year, due in part to the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 and the release of Blackfish in 2013). By 2016, SeaWorld will phase out the famous, theatrical Shamu show in San Diego where orcas perform tricks, such as diving, jumping waving, and most notably, splashing guests.
Notice: I said San Diego. That's right. This is only one tiny step in the right direction. Other SeaWorld locations—including San Antonio, Texas, and Orlando, Florida—are said to continue offering theatrical shows. As for San Diego SeaWorld, this is by no means the end. The orcas will remain in captivity to perform a new show come 2017—one that displays these animals in an “informative and more natural setting.” Makes total sense. Ditch the tricks, keep the show. That will help improve the orcas' mental health in a swimming pool the size of my backyard.
“People love companies that have a purpose, even for-profit companies,” Manby said. “Just look at WholeFoods ... I don't see any reason why SeaWorld can't be one of those brands.” For SeaWorld, it's all about the money and to make money, they must regain a positive image. This is their attempt.
So before you applaud SeaWorld for their attempt at solving the problem, remember that we are nowhere close to the solution. SeaWorld will continue breeding orcas in captivity. The Shamu show will end—in San Diego at least—but the whales will continue acting as an attraction to drive income. But hey, at least SeaWorld will become more appealing for investors as a company with a “purpose,” right?
If you're not sad yet, here's ten more reasons why you should be. How did we get here? How is it that SeaWorld thinks that removing one hyped-up trick show will end all problems? You know what, you're right. It's just a PR stunt, looking for one decent headline after years of social media slamming. (Well, you're not getting one from me). If anything, this new plan places more priority on the safety of the staff. This, in no way, improves the living conditions or psychological state of the dispirited whales suffering in confinement and isolation. Perhaps Howard Stern said it best, “Who thought it was a good idea to put a whale in a pool [in the first place]?”