At 5a.m. Thursday, SeaWorld announced that it would end its killer-whale breeding program, and would work with one of its most prolific critics, the Humane Society of the United States, a shocking change in direction.
SeaWorld has been crucified in the unjust court of public opinion. In the age of skepticism fueled by the immediacy of social media, nuance is lost.
The fact is that SeaWorld’s killer whales live as long as the most studied wild populations. When you look carefully at the science, trends indicate that in the next decade SeaWorld’s whales will outlive those same wild populations by a significant margin. They are not suffering; they are not mistreated; they are, in fact, thriving. But perception is reality, and the business side of SeaWorld is responding to perception.
SeaWorld has made mistakes that have contributed to the current atmosphere. By waiting to respond to the rhetoric for too long, the theme park allowed a perception to grow when all along it has had absolutely nothing to hide. SeaWorld’s initial failure to act created an appearance of guilt.
Many will quickly identify the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau as the beginning trajectory of recent announcements. Others will mark the debut of “Blackfish” as the turning point. Both play a role, but neither event, together or separately, was responsible for SeaWorld’s latest change. The single greatest contributing factor and mistake, in my opinion, was making SeaWorld a publicly traded company (stock symbol SEAS).
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