Perhaps we celebrated too soon. Yesterday, Indiewire reported that SeaWorld would end its live orca show at its San Diego park after facing continuing backlash over the treatment of the animals as seen in the 2013 documentary “Blackfish.”
SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. CEO told investors that the park will offer a different kind of orca experience, one that focuses more on the animal’s natural setting and behaviors, beginning in 2017. But critics and animal activists have pointed out that SeaWorld has not committed to ending the live orca show at its other parks and it still plans to exhibit orcas in other ways.
California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff plans to introduce federal legislation to end captive orca breeding. He said ending the existing shows doesn’t go far enough.
“The fact still remains that as long as SeaWorld holds orcas in captivity, the physical and psychological problems associated with their captivity will persist,” he told the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, “Blackfish” director Gabriela Cowperthwaite told The San Diego Union-Tribute that while she’s “cautiously optimistic,” she’s still not convinced that SeaWorld plans to do the right thing.
“My understanding is that SeaWorld may not be stopping the orca show at all,” said Cowperthwaite. “They may simply be repackaging it so that orcas will perform more natural-looking tricks in new choreographed acts. I hope I’m wrong and that this is not simply a slick rebranding.”
Following a limited release in theaters in 2013, “Blackfish” aired on CNN 28 times in 2013 and 2014, attracting 28 million viewers. Those millions learned about the mistreatment of captive orcas and in particular, about the case of captive orca Tillikum who caused the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.
Activists protested against keeping orcas captive and musicians, including Heart and Willie Nelson, cancelled plans to perform at SeaWorld. SeaWorld took notice when profits at its San Diego park dipped drastically due to the bad PR.
Cowperthwaite said she could not have anticipated the strong response to the film. “I didn’t think this would have this kind of impact,” she told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “All we could do is strike a nerve; the rest has been everybody’s response to the film. Those are the real warriors, those who have chosen not to go [to SeaWorld].”
CNN will air an encore of “Blackfish” on Saturday, Nov 14 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.