Seaworld: The Uncomfortable Truth

Seaworld: a name now synonymous with cruelty. Regardless of your views on the keeping of captive orcas you will have been hard pressed to avoid any of the negative press the organisation has received in the last two years following the release of Blackfish. The Blackfish effect as it has been dubbed has demonstrated the power of social media in placing pressure on companies as it has engaged millions of people; something you would imagine to be a good thing. Unfortunately the world is not as black and white as the orcas people are trying to save.

Flashback to 2013. Few people had any resounding guilt in visiting Seaworlds parks, in fact many believed that they were doing a good thing by donating money to a conservation organisation whilst enjoying an educational show featuring killer whales. Of course there had been negative press in the past regarding trainer deaths, but tragically these events always fade out of the general public’s mind relatively quickly. Then the Blackfish documentary became mainstream, it was being shown on various tv channels, Netflix, celebrities were watching and having their say. Blackfish was in. Seaworld was out.

What followed was a public relations nightmare for the organisation as they watched their profits fall. In December 2014 they announced that their shares had fallen by 51% since the premiere of Blackfish. The vicious backlash against the company seems unstoppable and all Blackfish supporters would argue that this is an amazing feat. Yet plummeting profits at Seaworld means less money available to other conservation organisations it supports.

Many people don’t realise that Seaworld is one of the largest conservation organisations in the world and donates a lot of money to a lot of different projects. The key here is the variety of projects which receive grants from them, there are various publications shaming them for allocating such a small amount on wild cetaceans  but the list of their work is enormous; just look at their report into what they achieved in 2014.

The problem is that when Seaworld profits fall, so does their ability to grant money to smaller charities. Many of these charities are for less charismatic species which the general public are less likely to donate money to off their own backs. Which are you more likely to give money to; whale conservation or oyster reefs?

Does their conservation work justify the keeping of captive orcas? Possibly not, but then how else will we fund vital conservation work. It appears that human nature dictates that we must receive something for the donation we make, in the case of Seaworld it was about the display and the experience we were receiving whilst donating money.


Perhaps Seaworld shouldn’t exist in its current form. They certainly claim to be evolving by ending their live shows in San Diego for a more conservation based approach. Hopefully this is more than just a PR stunt to appease the wolves baying for their blood. Captive cetacean collections need to innovate much like zoological collections have done in the past to become conservation minded organisations rather than a stamp collection of different species in a poor captive situation, so hopefully Blackfish will aid this evolution rather than destroying Seaworld altogether.

The uncomfortable truth is; we need Seaworld. Whilst people tweet about #Freetilikum we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis which is largely ignored.  We need the large organisations to feed funds down to smaller ones so they can continue their work, we need those who campaign so passionately about freeing captive whales to campaign so passionately about species going extinct, illegal logging and poaching. Most importantly we need people to reconnect with nature, we should not have to watch an orca show to be inspired to save them; instead we should all step away from our social media accounts and take some time to re-explore nature.

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Emily Stewart
Owner of Inspirewildlife - a site dedicated to sharing positive conservation news stories from around the world. Zoo Management Graduate from University of Chester
Emily Stewart

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2 Responses

  1. 17th March 2016

    […] were always an easy target for criticism, much of it being deserved, but as Emily Stewart wrote they have always been quietly involved in a variety of conservation projects which do actually […]

  2. 17th March 2016

    […] were always an easy target for criticism, much of it being deserved, but as Emily Stewart wrote they have always been quietly involved in a variety of conservation projects which do actually […]

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