SeaWorld’s new plan is genius…except for one big thing

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Seaworld, what are we to make of you now?
The company has pledged to reinvent itself from the inside out, and to refocus into helping the public find ways to make a difference to the environment. The plan is well thought out and genius. And, it would appear, keeping killer whales doesn’t figure prominently in the long term game plan in the U.S. parks, or at least reliance on the iconic whales was underplayed in their presentation to stockholders. They want to broaden the park’s theme considerably by encouraging passion for the environment through their rides and education outreach.
From that point of view, then, the company appears to have taken the only road open to them. Phase out the killer whales and the glitz without admitting it was wrong in the first place. Ignite passion in a broader cause. Tie together theme park excitement with that theme, as exemplified here:

The presentation for investors was interesting and almost inspiring right up until someone trotted out the same old tired and bitter arguments against animal welfare claims; it cast a shadow on the believability of the entire presentation.  They went from speaking their truth to speaking their truthiness.
That is a big problem.
Can they overcome this and convince the public that they are changing? Not until they can stand up and admit that they were wrong to take whales from the wild, and that the reason they haven’t taken any in 35 years is that no one would let them – SeaWorld tried. They need to admit that the conditions and treatment they have to do to keep the orcas alive are brutal. End captive breeding. SeaWorld Fact Check is an excellent resource for accurate information on these issues.

Their claim that they are ending the killer whale shows at their San Diego park seems disingenuous, but if we take a step back and ask ourselves what Seaworld can do right now for the killer whales in their tanks it becomes clear that they don’t have a lot of options. They can continue business as usual with the circus shows. They can try to build a bigger tank and make life better for the whales. They can ship them off to foreign countries. They can build sea pens and move the whales there.
It doesn’t look like they can’t really do any of those in the short term, even if they wanted to. They could ship the whales off but the problems they have now are nothing compared to what would rain down on them if they tried. Sea pens are a huge undertaking and SeaWorld is short on capital – although a caring company, Munchkins, has offered to help them out with that, as the video below shows (it is not an ad, but an inspirational message):

After running into public opinion and a thoughtful ruling by the California Coastal Commission, building a larger tank isn’t feasible and Seaworld is considering using money that they set aside for that project in order to build a resort.
So that just leaves the decision they did make: keep the orcas for now, but end the circus shows. However, they can’t just let the whales log around 24/7 like ocean couch potatoes, the orcas need to be engaged and stimulated. The plan to change the style and content of the shows will let Seaworld recoup on the cost of keeping the whales engaged and fed, which Seaworld will have to do anyway.
There is a lot of content in the presentation besides orca issues, and it is worth taking the time to listen. Examples are: they are planning to concentrate on people who live withing a 300 mile radius of the park, focus on millennials and moms, target schools, use a different price structure, make navigating the parks easier, and they hinted at using ideas from their wildly successful Discovery Cove theme park (which includes a swim-with-dolphins facility…good luck with that in California, although Las Vegas was mentioned.).
Can a company that has persisted in showing indifference to both the quality of life it offers whales and dolphins in its care and which also denies accountability for damage it wrought to wild dolphins and whales in the past be the one uniquely poised to bring true environmental awareness to the public?
If that company is Seaworld, they have a lot of work to do, and they say they are ready to do it. They make no bones about being in it for the money – at one point CEO Joel Manby sounds very gleeful about getting everyone to donate 50 cents – the question is can they really become the Whole Foods of theme parks as Manby mentioned, or just the Whole Rest of the Paycheck?
We’ll see.

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