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SeaWorld Response to Blackfish


SeaWorld Orlando took, perhaps, a bit longer than they should have, but they finally have issued what I consider a very effective response to the people and forces behind the film ‘Blackfish.’ I guess they couldn’t hold off any longer after CNN’s airing of the film last night.

I’ve reprinted below the response in full from the Inside SeaWorld blog:

A Response to Blackfish

By Michael Scarpuzzi, Vice President of Zooligical Operations for SeaWorld San Diego

Shortly after 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 24, 2010, a SeaWorld Orlando trainer lost her life in a tragic accident involving one of the park’s killer whales. The death of Dawn Brancheau was an occasion of almost unbearable sadness for those closest to Dawn — her family, friends and colleagues at SeaWorld. I was honored to know Dawn and count myself among those SeaWorld team members deeply affected by her loss.

Dawn’s death has been the subject of thousands of articles, broadcast news stories, blogs, books, and now a feature film called Blackfish. Many of these accounts trade in the details of Dawn’s death in graphic detail. They do so not to inform but, rather, regrettably, because of the desire to sensationalize. The three years since Dawn’s death have seen the emergence of individuals who have chosen not to honor her memory, but rather to use the events of Feb. 24, 2010 to advance their own interests. Some seek commercial gain. Others seek to forward a political or philosophical agenda. Still others appear to be engaged in self-promotion.

But anyone approaching this subject in good faith must recognize a simple fact: Our staff has interacted with killer whales — for veterinary care, training, shows, educational presentations, husbandry, exercise, play and enrichment — hundreds of times a day for nearly 50 years. The tragedy of Dawn’s death cannot and has not been ignored, but neither should the literally millions of safe interactions we have had with killer whales over that span of time. Blackfish focuses on a handful of incidents over our long history at the exclusion of everything else. Not a single interview with a guest who was inspired and enriched by their experience with killer whales at SeaWorld. Not one visitor who left SeaWorld more aware of the need to preserve the world around them. Not one word about the thousands of ill, orphaned and injured animals rescued by SeaWorld or the millions of dollars we dedicate to supporting conservation and research. There is no acknowledgment anywhere in the film of the great things SeaWorld does every day or the simple fact that our animals are healthy and passionately cared for.

I started at Sea World in 1975 and have witnessed the growth and changes that come with a company that is dedicated to understanding these magnificent animals. We have collected invaluable information about these animals that could not be obtained from observation in the wild. In the three years since Dawn’s death, we have again made significant changes at SeaWorld. We have altered how we care for, display and train these extraordinary animals. We have changed the facilities, equipment and procedures at our killer whale habitats. The care and educational presentation of these animals at SeaWorld has been made safer than ever before. Does Blackfish inform its viewers of that fact? No, it does not. And by that omission the film reveals itself not as a work of objective documentary filmmaking, but rather as something closer to propaganda. As we have said many times, there is simply no higher priority for us than the safety of our guests and staff and the welfare of our animals.

We understand that there will always be individuals and groups opposed to the care of animals in zoos and aquariums. We recognize that we must defend what we do and the manner in which we do it. Blackfish, like other works driven by the same agenda, ignores the extraordinary benefits to conservation, scientific research and education of America’s zoo and aquariums. But through it all SeaWorld remains the world’s most respected marine zoological institution. Our parks are staffed with skilled and caring zoological professionals, all of whom deserve to have their work celebrated, not dishonored by things like Blackfish.

Despite what the makers of this film may suggest, SeaWorld is the kind of organization that draws dedicated and passionate people like Dawn Brancheau. These are the men and women who have built SeaWorld into an extraordinary place, one that provides inspiring, enriching and educational experiences to more than 11 million people each year. That, not the inaccurate and shamefully misleading account in Blackfish, is what SeaWorld really is.

Scarpuzzi, who has been caring for and training killer whales for nearly 40 years, is the vice president of zoological operations for SeaWorld San Diego.

Photo of Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld courtesy cc-license on Flickr.

19 thoughts on “SeaWorld Response to Blackfish”

  1. One good deed deserves another. Not used as a excuse for a bad one. They can help with conservation efforts all they want and save animals but does that mean it’s ok to abuse one or two animals? NO. If the movie Jaws can use a fake shark to entertain us why can’t they use fake animals to educate us. They claim it’s for education but I’m not buying it or any of their tickets.

    1. The truth is that Seaworld is using whales for entertainment purposes, not education at this point. You can learn a lot more about Orcas through actually taking a boat tour in San Juan Islands. There are many ways that they could still educate the public without forcing the animals to perform.

      1. Sea World has done a lot of good over the years and the good that they have done far outweighs the bad. The blackfish movie shows false information and if they were to release them back into the wild it would have to happen for every wild animal in captivity. zoo’s and sanctuary’s and homes would have to do it too. And who’s to say that they wouldn’t die in the ocean. there are chemicals and radiation in the water now that’s spreading to the east and west coasts now.

  2. I think the issue raised is that in the name of “conservation efforts”, Sea World seems to ignore that they have an animal on their hands who has demonstrated repeated agressively dangerous behavior in favor of harvesting sperm. To me, that indicates a profit minded corporation behaving in a profit minded manner. Not to mention the heartbreaking footage of a separation of baby & mother whale~how is that a conservation effort? Or the documented employees giving incorrect information regarding whales, their life spans, their physical characteristics…etc. This documentary had multiple examples of unsettling issues, not one isolated incident or issue.

  3. I knew that posting this would inevitably bring the forces behind the film to the blog and facebook wall. I’ve let the comments that post without vitriol stand. Believe it or not, I totally understand their perspective. If this was a perfect world we wouldn’t need the SeaWorld’s and Animal Kingdoms to help bring nature to the masses.

    There are plenty of other fish in the sea (so to speak), changes to our food production system that would make a significant difference to everyone on the planet, and are achievable in the next 10 years if we really try. Put an end to factory farms (especially those that treat cows, chickens, sheep, and pigs like widgets instead of animals), end gov’t subsidies for the type of corporate farming that produces GMO’d food and floods the markets with unhealthy products at low prices while healthy foods get no subsidies and therefore often aren’t even available in some communities, let alone affordable.

    I could go on (chemicals in the groundwater caused by fracking and dumping of prescription drugs, are just two). But these are the areas the forces behind blackfish should be concentrating on and organizing to change.

  4. John, I notice that you have a long list of personal topics that you think the folks protesting Seaworld should be focusing on instead, because you consider them so much more important. If you consider these areas so earth-shakingly important, may I ask why YOU are not spending all of YOUR time on these topics, instead of using your time to run an entertainment-based website? Is it possible that with your OWN time, you recognize that YOU can focus on what YOU consider important, and even (even forfend) engage in more than topic at a time?

    I’m not involved with the documentary or the movement, but it sounds like they’ve got a solid point. The argument that we cannot care about one topic because another topic is “worse” is completely ridiculous. Remember, I could use the same technique to belittle every topic you listed by pointing out all the people across the world who are starving, dying in wars, or being tortured right now.

  5. Why not donate Tili to a group which would try to provide a more natural and enriching environment for him? According to many first hand reports, he’s kept in virtual isolation currently.

    Great that SeaWorld is providing a sanctuary for animals which would be unable to survive in the wild, but if that is true, why are you breeding animals in captivity?

    I rent or buy Disney videos and other products for my son at least once a week. But I can’t continue to do so in good conscience. He is 7. He saw some clips for Blackfish and we did our own research on the web to get a more balanced viewpoint. It just got worse the more we dug.

    He was horrified and cried. We saw that Disney owns SeaWorld. He has rounded up everything Disney in our household and tried to throw it in the trash (but I made him donate instead to a shelter for homeless kids). Cancelled our subscription to the Disney channel. Will not go to DisneyWorld for Spring Break as planned. (That will save our family about $3K!)

    1. Disney does not own sea world. they own star wars and indiana jones but not sea world. your little boy is getting upset over lies

  6. My employer staffs our firm with engineers and scientists. I do not know how many of my coworkers have seen Blackfish, but I must wonder how Mr Scarpuzzi can square his feel good story about how Seaworld conserves their animals with the dorsal fin collapse so many of the males display. I have seen shows at Seaworld personally,and witnessed dorsal fin collapse on their whales, which is a known pathology. Seaworld guides present this as a normal condition. It is not. In over forty years, I have never once seen film or photo of a wild orca with dorsal fin collapse. Mr Scarpuzzi, your credibility is crushed and until you get out of the corporate fog you inhabit, it will remain brutalized. Will you allow your grandchildren in the water with Tilikum? Until Disney and Seaworld demonstrate decency, honesty, and integrity with all their whales, I will boycott all of their properties and brands and encourage everyone I know to see Blackfish and do so as well. Wake up. You’re busted.

  7. JoJo.. SeaWorld is owned by Blackstone not Disney.
    The SeaWorld statement was weak and deflective. Instead of addressing the movie, it deflected to whining about why the focus wasn’t on positive attributes.
    It’s probably in the best interest of this blogger to stay on their good side.

  8. I enjoy zoos & animal parks, and feel they play an essential part in teaching people about these creatures and their important place in this World. Most of these animals have a quality of life that is at least close to that which they’d have in the “wild”.
    However, the captivity of these killer whales is something totally & completely different.
    The words barbaric, cruel, and even “criminal” come to mind.
    It’s been almost 30 years since I last visited Sea World, and I’d really love to go again for the vast majority of it’s attractions.
    But I won’t spend one nickel in there until the killer whales are gone.


  9. Even though Sea World was invited to make comments and participate in the making of Blackfish, they didn’t. After the fact, Scarpuzzi lists a few perspectives that the documentary didn’t address. Why didn’t he, and Sea World, step up and include their voice in the documentary? Instead, they complain and whine about the documentary’s bias and what it didn’t include. It’s all about money.

    1. In documentaries that are bias and only show the bad in your company it is always better to stay out. Generally in films such this they will edit your words down and get to say things out of context. No company would ever participate if they were smart.

  10. I get it. You think they’re mistreating animals. The movie tugs at heart strings. But here’s a question for you. Do you eat red meat? Do you contribute to climate change in any way? Do you use plastic water bottles or those K-cups in your coffee machine? When was the last time you used packing peanuts when you sent Grandma a Christmas present? Where do you suppose that crap winds up? THE OCEAN! Do you own an AKC registered dog with thousands being killed in shelters every day? We as a species mistreat and discount the needs of animals every day. Do you eat tuna? Are you aware the amount of dolphin killed by tuna nets? So enjoy your McDonalds double cheese death burger as you use your I-phone made in China that consistently pumps insane amounts of pollutants into the air and ocean and wash it down with a big glass of shut your yap!

    1. so… we should just do nothing then?

      I’m not arguing that we’re not all hypocrites; but i’d rather do something than nothing at all.

  11. As someone who has been going to Sea World regularly since I was a small child, I have seen it go through many changes over the past 20+ years. I think, in my case, Sea World did accomplish their mission for educating people about marine life. So effective were those early lessons, that I have now become an adult who cannot be comfortable watching beautiful and intelligent animals like orca whales jump for fish like circus performers. It is because I am educated, and experienced as a guest of this park regularly, that I don’t want anymore Shamu Shows. Sea World spends their money building roller coasters nowadays. It’s as if the park is having an identity crisis. Are you an amusement park or a zoological society? Let the orcas go, let the kids ride the coasters, and those wide-eyed children you educated 20 years ago will be proud to bring their kids to your park.

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