Friday, 21 August 2015

My film Blackfish plunged Seaworld into crisis – but it’s not only killer whales we must protect

The crisis at SeaWorld reflects people facing up to uncomfortable truths about animal welfare and what it means to be humane – and not before time
Thursday 20 August 2015 09.25 BSTLast modified on Thursday 20 August 201511.11 BST

When I started work on Blackfish, I could not possibly have imagined the effect it would have on SeaWorld. Let’s be honest. Not a lot of people see documentaries. And not a lot of people want to see a movie that sucker punches a beloved cultural icon. But it seems as though the movie has indeed changed how many view the park.

Over the past couple of years, SeaWorld’s visitor numbers have fallen, its stock has plummeted, lawsuits have confronted their business practices, legislation has challenged what goes on at Shamu Stadium, and reported profits were down 84% on the previous year.

People ask me whether this is a win. I can only say that it was inevitable, and that I hope it’s only the beginning. Today’s kids are increasingly becoming part of the “I can’t believe we used to do that” generation. They know that killer whales are not suitable for captivity.

Instead of acknowledging this, SeaWorld has decided to spend its way out of the crisis. With its glossy, protracted PR fight, it continues to claim it is battling an image problem. Yet I see no meaningful change. I guess this is what happens when a corporation operates essentially ungoverned for 45 years. But I know many of us still hold out hope that SeaWorld, in one final Hail Mary pass, will do something drastically progressive – like stopping their breeding programme. This would mean no more baby Shamus for SeaWorld. It would mean that the whales currently at SeaWorld would be the last it will ever have in captivity.

After this, SeaWorld could almost singlehandedly pioneer a sea sanctuary where it could retire the remaining whales. SeaWorld’s whales are unlikely to know how to hunt for their own food because they are given antibiotics and might die if they’re not in human care, so they can’t simply be tossed back into the open ocean. But a killer whale sanctuary would provide these animals with a massive, cordoned off, ocean cove where they could live out their lives in a healthier and more dignified way.

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