Category:  Media Industry

The Fall of SeaWorld




In 2013, an independent movie titled Blackfish was released during the Sundance Film Festival. The movie documented the lives of animals housed at SeaWorld in San Diego. It portrayed the park as a circus like environment instead of a safe and animal friendly haven.

The movie primarily focused on one Orca whale named Tilikum, which was responsible for the death of three park attendants. Most notably, Tilikum lashed out in 2010, and dragged one of his trainers to the bottom of the pool and drowned her. It has been reported that Tilikum lashed out due to the stress of his environment and harmful treatment. Most animals in the park have been found to suffer from psychological trauma.

Blackfish had an impact similar to Morgan Spurlock’s release of Supersize Me. Blackfish motivated people to stand up for animal rights, and had an extreme impact on SeaWorld.

Ever since Tilikum rebelled, reporters have dug deep into the inner workings of SeaWorld, and have not been pleased with what they have found. Numerou allegations of negligence, maltreatment, and abuse have been unearthed through investigations. PETA has become involved in the issue, too, which has added to the attack on SeaWorld.

PETA has been the loudest opponent, still hosting protests regularly and attending hearings regarding the state placing new regulations on the popular adventure park. Most recently, a host of negative press has been linked to SeaWorld, because it was caught in a spying scandal. SeaWorld was caught paying employees to pose as PETA members to discover the organization’s game plans and be able to prepare for them. Since the scandal broke, donations to PETA have increased by 30 percent.

With all of the negative press SeaWorld has received, attendance has dropped 84 percent. Directly after the death of the Orca trainer, attendance decreased by 17 percent. To appeal to customers again, SeaWorld cancelled the killer whale theatrical show.

Recently SeaWorld blamed the drop in attendance on the calendar. It claimed that spring break did not fall at a favorable time last year and that Easter’s placement on the calendar did not allow potential customers a lot of vacation time.

Six high-ranking officials have stepped down within a 13-month period. SeaWorld share values have decreased 40 percent. Income from sales and merchandise have plummeted from $37.3 million to $5.8 million.  Each year since the scandal has broken, 300 jobs have been cut and Seaworld is now aiming to eliminate nearly $50 million from its budget annually.

SeaWorld has been on the defense for a while now. It takes a long time to address the allegations brought up against it. Scrolling through its website, it is hard to locate its public relations and media sections. The park appears to be trying to mask as many of the issues as it can.

Right now, Seaworld is focusing on the future, desperately attempting to bury the past.

Spring and summer are the two biggest quarters for the park when the most visitors come through the gates and the most potential for sales are available.

SeaWorld is now aiming 85 percent of its ads toward American tourists. SeaWorld has dumped $15 million into ad campaigns promoting how well it treats its animals.

If you try to go to SeaWorld.com, it does not bring you to a regular homepage; you are brought to a split screen where you must choose between entering the company website, or being directed to a website that showcases how well the park cares for its animals.

SeaWorld has designated $10 million to Orca whale conservation efforts.

If you see an advertisement on screen or in a paper, it will most likely be promoting the handful of upcoming attractions at the SeaWorld parks. In Orlando, SeaWorld will be opening the city’s tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster.

PETA has pushed vigorously for coastal sanctuary meet and greets instead of tanks. By 2017, SeaWorld hopes to be slightly closer to meeting that demand. It is going back and forth with California lawmakers on the provisions for these new areas, focusing on what is best for the animals. If PETA gets its way, there will be a lot less animals at the park altogether. PETA would really like to see virtual reality interactive experiences as oppose to live experiences.

SeaWorld claims to be “listening to our guests, and evolving as a company.” Part of listening to its guests is firing two top executives and replacing them with employees who have “extraordinary depths of knowledge” in park operations and zoological studies.

It is hard to predict the future of SeaWorld, but it does not necessarily look bright. It was announced last week that Tilikum, the star of Blackfish is dying due to a lung disease. Specialists have said he would have a natural immunity to this disease had he been kept in the wild.

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