Have you seen Blackfish? If you haven’t, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Blackfish was the documentary created by Gabriela Cowperthwaite in 2013 concerning the mistreatment orcas have been receiving at the water and amusement park, Sea World. SeaWorld is a chain of marine mammal parks in the United States and is the largest owner of captive killer whales in the world. That documentary was the spark that ignited and informed many of the public’s eyes and hearts to the animal abuse that was taking place at the amusement water park. Years later, that Shamu stuffed animal you may still have in a bag full of stuffed animals you can’t bring yourself to get rid of like me, is finally getting the rights and freedom it deserves that we didn’t even know it didn’t have when we sat in those bleachers as children while they splashed and turned.
This scandal was brought to the most significant light after Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary, advocacy efforts in the 21st century are more effective with a visual aspect, and that is just what Blackfish did. Killer whales were first captured live and displayed in exhibitions in the 1960’s at Seaworld San Diego, and they became popular attractions to the public because of their intelligence, trainability, appearance, and playfulness. As of December, 2014, there are 57 orcas in captivity worldwide, 35 of which are captive-born.
Keeping these whales in captivity have become a controversy because of the methods in capturing them, the inhumane mistreatment in captivity, and the danger they pose to the public due to those extremities. The orcas are taken from the wild, their vast home of the ocean, from their families, into habitats much smaller than the parking lots people use to see them at Sea World. It is difficult to provide a healthy environment for the captive whales, as a result there are premature deaths, collapsed dorsal fins, insufficient diet, lack of family (they are social animals like wolves in a pack), and have have demonstrated aggression. In the wild, only one person has ever been accounted for as injured by a wild orca, but whales in captivity are a different story.
Tilikum, now 34 year olds, was captured in 1983 and transferred to Sea World Orlando, Florida, has been involved in the deaths of three people. You might remember the trainer, Dawn Brancheau’s, the most from 2010, the woman who was yanked by her pony tail into the tank by Tilikum. Brancheau’s autopsy indicated death by drowning and blunt force trauma. There was a lot of focus on Tilikum in the Blackfish documentary, since he has artificially sired 21 calves in captivity, all that carry his genes. Blackfish came right in the nick of time when the public began to question the safety of themselves and the orcas in captivity.
So, what has SeaWorld been doing? One of their whales has killed three people in the last two decades, the public was becoming and voicing their concerns, Blackfish took over the screens and really made a difference in spreading awareness for rights of the killer whales.
At first, SeaWorld took the ‘reduce offensiveness’ step of the image restoration theory process by William Benoit, that my fellow public relation’s comrades may be familiar with. Minimization, in other words, downplay the extent of the damage. Much like Exxon did with the Valdez oil spill, minimizing the apparent problem by making it seem like it isn’t that big of a problem. Sea World declared that their whales were in actuality much more content, healthy and thriving in captivity than they would be in the wild, that protesters were misinformed, Blackfish was wrong, and that there was nothing to worry about. Basically, that everyone was being dramatic, and Sea World does care about their animals.
“While animal advocates worked overtime to educate the consumers to the many reasons why orcas do not thrive in concrete tanks, SeaWorld did all it could to convince the public that orcas perform because they like it and thrive in tanks,” wrote dolphin freedom advocate Helene O’Barry in SeaWorld Bows to Public Pressure for the Huffington Post.
SeaWorld skipped the first two steps of William Benoit’s image repair strategy, which are denial and evading responsibility. They didn’t deny they took these whales from their homes, or that they did it out of provocation or defeasibility, they immediately dove to step 3 in attempts to reduce the offensiveness by minimizing the issue, that it wasn’t that bad, and even attacked some of the accusers.
However, the efforts of advocates and Blackfish have ran Sea World right into a corner, because less and less people were purchasing tickets. After decades of its founding, Sea World was losing money, which led them straight to step 4 and 5, the corrective action and mortification. This company had to come up with a new business strategy in order to avoid any more lack of profits, they had to take corrective action and finally listen to the public’s demands in order to save themselves. As of this month, April 2016, Sea World will no longer capture and breed their captive whales indefinitely. The company’s current generation of 29 orcas will be their last, and this is as a result from the public’s growing opposition of orcas in captivity.
But is ethical? That SeaWorld isn’t changing their ways because of the orcas, but just to save their company? It’s a little debatable, and a very egostical theory approach to the scandal, because while the public is finally being hard and orcas are being saved, the company initially is making these changes to benefit and save themselves. The company is trying to regain the public trust, because of the decline in ticket sales, and on their website website, SeaWorld tells its fans: “We’re changing because attitudes about animals under human care have evolved and we need to evolve with them. And make no mistake: we have all played a big part in why society has evolved on this issue.“
No you haven’t, SeaWorld, what are you talking about? You have tried to minimize the claims, differentiate yourself, and transcended about other issues. SeaWorld was like a child who got caught making money off something they shouldn’t have been making money for, and were too prideful and embarrassed to admit it. What was worse, were people and animals were hurt throughout it. It wasn’t until consumers realized it and stopped buying the child’s stolen lemonade that made them take corrective action.
From a consequentialism point of view, their corrective action it is not ethical, because the end does not justify the means. People have died, killer whales have been abused, just because they have chosen to change their ways now does not mean the entire company has a glowing halo around them. However, from a non-consequentialism perspective, where the end does not justify the mean, it is ethical because whales are being saved, regardless of the reason behind it. The mean, SeaWorld changing their methods to gain ticket sales again, provides the result (or consequence) in the future protection and freedom of Shamus. I’m ecstatic, and relieved, to see justice served, regardless of the egoistical standpoint of the water park. This goes to show that consumers have a voice and opportunities to make a difference, and hard work from the heart really does pay off.