There’s a scene from the CNN documentary “Blackfish” that begins with a haunting 911 call.
“We need a … response at SeaWorld,” a voice says. “A whale has eaten one of the trainers.”
The 2013 documentary suggests the theme park’s treatment of orcas, also called killer whales, prompted gruesome attacks. Since its release last year, it has evoked backlash from animal rights advocates, corporations and lawmakers. It has moved legislators to attempt to ban their captivity, companies to pull out of partnerships and researchers to study large ocean animals.
Now, SeaWorld is paying the price.
Crediting animal activism, the company acknowledged for the first time Wednesday the fallout that followed the film’s release, admitting attendance issues in San Diego, according to CNN Money. Although the company did not name “Blackfish,” it stated SeaWorld has been hurt by negative media attention.
“The company believes attendance in the quarter was impacted by demand pressures related to recent media attention surrounding proposed legislation in the state of California,” SeaWorld stated in its earnings release.
SeaWorld shares took a nearly 33 percent nose-dive Wednesday after SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. released its second-quarter profit report.
The legislation SeaWorld is worried about was introduced earlier this year to stop killer whale shows and, eventually, set them free. The Associated Press reported that the bill would have “banned the import, export and breeding of orcas while requiring SeaWorld San Diego to move its 10 killer whales out of tanks and into larger sea pens.” However, the bill was put on hold in April.
The next month, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called PETA, put up advertisements in the San Diego airport telling tourists not to visit the park. And last month, Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld dissolved a 26-year-old partnership after such groups said the airline was supporting animal cruelty, the Wall Street Journal reported. More than 30,000 people had signed an online petition urging the airline to cut ties — and it did, though the airline said it was “strictly a business decision.” Now, according to the Journal, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives are proposing a federal study on how captivity affects large ocean animals.
The protests have even spread to Orlando, where celebrities have boycotted and refused to perform.
When “Blackfish” was released last year, the company called the film “shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate.” It has since defended itself again and again, even writing an open letter about its practices “to set the record straight.”
The company wrote:
Naturalist Baba Dioum put it best when he said, ‘In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.’
At SeaWorld, this has been our calling since we first opened our doors 50 years ago. It is a responsibility we do not take lightly. More than 400 million guests have visited SeaWorld. We are proud that their experiences here have a lasting and positive impact on them, and on the world in which we live.