In the past few years, two trainers have been killed by orcas at SeaWorld, leading to news headlines, federal hearings, and a growing awareness that hey, maybe it's not such a good idea to keep giant wild animals in tiny tanks and treat them as slaves for our entertainment.
This summer came the release of Blackfish, a documentary that shows the horrors of keeping killer whales in captivity. It features former trainers tearfully regretting their roles in harming the whales. The movie first made the rounds of film festivals, then aired on CNN over the past few weeks, resulting in growing backlash against SeaWorld.
This past weekend, demonstrators from Animal Rights Florida held a protest outside of SeaWorld's Orlando theme park, and late last week, the chairman of SeaWorld's board of directors dumped $1.3 million in stock (though he still has a lot more.). SeaWorld is a publicly traded company and is set to release its quarterly financial statements on Wednesday.
Also: Today, the theme park will go to the U.S. Court of Appeals asking for a reversal of citations issued by the Labor Department. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had cited SeaWorld after the trainer deaths because the company wasn't providing a workplace free of hazards that can harm or kill employees. SeaWorld -- whose lawyer in the case is the son of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia -- compared the risks of the trainers' jobs with NFL players who face injury or NASCAR drivers who drive fast. The company suspended in-water interaction between trainers and orcas while the case is being litigated.
According to MarketWatch, Goldman Sachs and investment firm Blackstone made millions in profits off of SeaWorld this year, after the company went public in April.
SeaWorld spokespersons say that the theme park is instrumental in education and conservation, but David Kirby, who wrote the book Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity, has argued that SeaWorld's contributions to science are minimal: "While SeaWorld is certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, meaning they meet minimum conservation requirements, during the several times I visited the park to research my book, I heard virtually nothing that would educate people about killer whales in the wild, how long they live, their social bonds, their hunting patterns, and ways to conserve their threatened natural habitats. Instead, I "learned" that whales like blaring music, roaring crowds, back-flips and French kissing."
See more photos from the weekend protest here.
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Follow Deirdra Funcheon on Twitter: @DeirdraFuncheon
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