SeaWorld Tries, and Fails, to Improve Their Image

Just another day at the office?

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SeaWorld is desperate.  Last week, the park reported dismal 3rd quarter earnings.  Orlando’s WESH 2 put things into perspective:

While SeaWorlds’ dismal earnings reports may be the result of a combination of factors, a look at the performance of SeaWorld Shares since  “Blackfish” was released is revealing.

When “BlackFish” was released in July 2013, the share price was around $38, but a decline begin and in August 2014, after a discouraging second quarter earnings report, the stock dropped to $27. As of Wednesday, it was down to $16, which is a 43 percent decline.

Financial analysts agree.  SeaWorld Flops It’s Most Important Quarter of the Year…the headline says it all.

The first performance indicator which is suffering is park traffic. Attendance in the summer quarter fell from 8.9 million last year to 8.4 million this year, a 5.6% drop. The third quarter of the year is SeaWorld’s most profitable season, but it’s impossible to make money if guests aren’t spinning the turnstiles.

The next place to look is revenue. The 5.6% drop in park attendance carried over to an 8% decline in total sales. That’s a pretty bad sign. Not only are fewer people showing up to SeaWorld, they’re also spending less money.

SeaWorld is trying desperately the improve their image.  However they continue to miss the boat.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Atchison told analysts last week that SeaWorld has hired new people with expertise in public affairs, along with outside advisers “to help us navigate some of this.”  SeaWorld plans to spend an additional $10 million on marketing next year.  SeaWorld points out it is also embarking on a “major multimillion-dollar partnership focused on protecting the ocean” but is not yet providing details. Earlier this year the park committed $10 million for killer-whale research at the same time it announced plans to nearly double habitat for its orcas (although specific plans have not been revealed).

None of this changes that fact that SeaWorld has NO PLANS to stop breeding their killer whales in captivity, retire their collection or phase out their shows.  In fact, according to Businessweek today…

For Atchison, there’s no tension between his responsibility to shareholders and the welfare of SeaWorld’s animals. “Our killer whales, our killer whale program, and all of our animals are emblematic of the whole brand. I have to protect our brand. I have to grow our brand. How we care for those animals may make me feel good morally, but that is also my fiduciary responsibility.”

Atchison says SeaWorld will continue with its killer whale shows and its captive killer whale breeding program, though it’s promised larger habitats and better safeguards for trainers. The Blue World Project, a 1.5-acre, 50-foot-deep killer whale habitat to be built in San Diego, will cost about $300 million. Atchison insists that whales at SeaWorld enjoy “great lives, full lives. I think they have enriching and socially well-adjusted lives, but you do not know what animals are thinking or feeling. You cannot know. What’s interesting to me is that so much of those who criticize us are basing that on their own opinions.”

But the story gets even more disturbing.  Writer Karl Taro Greenfeld shares his story of grabbing a cup of coffee with Fred Jacobs, vice president of communications, at a town hall meeting in September.   As Greenfeld adds milk to his coffee, Jacobs shares “I once had killer whale milk. I’ll starve to death before I have that again. It tastes like fish. It’s got like 15 times more fat than cow milk.” SeaWorld’s domestic breeding program, in addition to frequent testing of pH levels to see when female whales are ovulating, also stores plenty of killer whale milk in case a mother rejects her calf. Apparently, the staff used to taste the milk, and nobody gave much thought to that.

SeaWorld execs drinking killer whale milk and veterinarians collecting semen is not the way to win over the public. If they truly want to revive their image they need to take a close look at why people are not visiting the park.

Yes, SeaWorld does great work in their rescue and rehabilitation program.  Turtle Trek is the most educational and informative exhibit in their Orlando park. Sadly, it is also the smallest exhibit and it is tucked in the far back corner away from traffic. Turtle Trek houses manatees and sea turtles who are either in rehabilitation and awaiting release or deemed unfit for release.  These animals are not performing shows and are not bred in captivity.  To truly reinvent themselves, these local animals’ stories should be brought to the forefront.  Manatees and sea turtles suffer greatly due to boat strikes, fishing line, crab traps, cold stress, etc.  Engaging the public on these issues would be meaningful, tangible education.

In the meantime, SeaWorld needs to wake up the fact that the PUBLIC, not just animal activists, are over watching killer whales doing tricks for food.  It is a tired, old way of thinking that does not give a true perspective of who killer whales are or any real challenges they face.  If the park was providing accurate education about killer whales, it would be obvious that animals who travel in family pods, hundreds of miles per day, with incredible intelligence do not cope well with captivity. Instead, lets concentrate on the face that the Southern Resident population is dwindling due to lack of chinook salmon, boat traffic, and simply still trying to recover from the captures of decades ago.

There is a simple, quick fix to the problem.  Stop breeding, stop shows, and retire your collection.  The decision to do the right thing would not take $10 million in marketing or PR to improve their image, money which would be better spent on building sea pens to retire their whales.  Only then will everyone be comfortable visiting the park again…and SeaWorld will be the hero.

November =Manatee Awareness Month

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November is Manatee Awareness Month.

Did you know…?

*West Indian Manatees are large, grey aquatic animals with bodies that taper to a flat, paddle-shaped tail

*The manatees closest relatives are the elephant and the hyrax (a small gopher-sized mammal)

*The average adult manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds

*Manatees are vegetarians

*Manatees can be found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas

Now is a critical time for manatees, as the US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently moving forward on a status review for the West Indian manatee to reclassify the species, including its subspecies, the Florida manatee and Antillean manatee, from endangered to threatened.  While the population has increased, it is in no way out of harm’s way.

Hundreds of manatees have died in recent years in the ailing Indian River Lagoon.  Others continue to be victims of watercraft collisions and cold stress.

What can you do?

~Sign up for Save the Manatee Club’s Take Action for Manatees…and take action

~Adopt a Manatee, either for yourself or as a gift

~If you live in Florida, purchase a Save the Manatees Specialty License Plate

For More Information, Visit SaveTheManatees.org

Ocean Walls – Captivating People, Keeping the Wild Free

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Ocean Walls, which debuts November 8 at Victoria’s Hillside Centre, will open a window into the Pacific Ocean without stepping outside to do so.  The concept of Ocean Walls is a digital interactive medium that allows people to share their personal encounters with the wild by taking the online world into the real world of public spaces like shopping centres.

Chris Porter, one of the creators of Ocean Walls, wants to focus more on our activities and technologies to be deployed in the wild to monitor and share the direct condition of the ocean in real time.  By getting more of the public to learn about what is happening to our ocean through direct interaction, it is his hope that viewers will take greater ownership and responsibility to ensure direct action.

Chris is no stranger to cetaceans and our oceans.  He got his start as a trainer at Sealand of the Pacific where he worked with Tilikum, the infamous killer whale highlighted in the film Blackfish.  Later he became senior trainer at Vancouver Aquarium.  Following his work at Vancouver Aquarium, he was one of the leading dolphin traders in the captivity industry, capturing dolphins in the Solomon Islands.  In the mid-2000s, Chris came under fire for his work in the trade and left the Solomon Islands, leaving behind the dolphin export business as well.

For the past 5 years, after 25 years in the captivity industry, Chris has become an activist for marine mammals.  He has always loved dolphins, and now has come to see the beauty of dolphins in their own waters.  Last year, he was featured in the film Blackfish where he shares his experiences with Tilikum. He has also made several other public appearances to share his story and bring awareness to captive cetaceans and the plight of our oceans.  He is frustrated that the millions of dollars being spent on aquariums does not solve the wild conservation issues and initiatives that need to be funded. Ocean Walls will bring the current state of our ocean and it’s inhabitants to the forefront of the public eye, reaching a greater audience with a variety of backgrounds and interests.

WildVision is accepting new videos from the public to be displayed, and footage will be updated regularly.  Videos will run for various lengths of time.  In the next year, plans are underway to bring in experts to talk about issues affecting the marine environment to further the educational experience. The hope is to expand into other venues such as spas, hotel lobbies, and schools.  If you have videos to submit, you can contact them on any social media site using the hashtag #OceanWalls.

 OceanWalls… Captivating People, Keeping the Wild Free!

It is time to lay the myth to rest that people cannot be happy unless the real thing is in front of them.

A San Diego Progressive Takes On SeaWorld

Originally posted on Tim Zimmermann:

Is this the best use of valuable San Diego property?

Not everyone who lives in San Diego thinks San Diego needs to protect SeaWorld. Linda Perine, of the Democratic Womans Club, wades into the fray with facts, links, and a fierce attitude:

Being very well connected and making a lot of contributions to politicians allows a business a fair amount of leeway, especially in San Diego.

As Voice of San Diego pointed out in one of its somewhat boosterish articles Sea World By the Numbers  Sea World employs up to 4,500 people, albeit many are temporary positions and minimum wage.

As was mentioned before, Sea World pays a percentage of its income as rent on a lease to the City that some view as extraordinarily favorable to Sea World.  While putting $14 million into the public coffers may be an attention getter, it is nowhere near what it ought…

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The Virgin Pledge** (**Including Loopholes And Caveats)

Originally posted on Tim Zimmermann:

After months of deliberation, Sir Richard Branson has finally settled on the language of the pledge he wants captive facilities to make if they would like to continue to do business with Virgin companies. Here is how the Virgin Pledge reads:

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While Branson and Virgin should get credit for at least engaging on this issue, and while this pledge would mean that a marine park can’t just buy a Taiji dolphin and continue to do business with Virgin, that’s about all it achieves. If you caught lots of wild dolphins for your shows before February 2014, no problem. If you engage in breeding loans with marine parks that capture wild dolphins and killer whales, no problem as long as the animal you are importing wasn’t wild caught (though it can be the offspring of a wild dolphin or whale, allowing your breeding program to benefit from wild captures). So the…

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What’s Wrong With Kayla the Killer Whale?

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It has been well documented that Tilikum spends the majority of his time logging at the surface of his tank, but it turns out he is not the only one.

At a recent visit to SeaWorld Orlando, Kayla also spent an exorbitant amount of time stationary at the surface while her tankmates swam circles around her.  Kayla was born in November 1988, making her the second oldest captive born killer whale in SeaWorld’s collection at only 25 years old.

In Death at SeaWorld, David Kirby reported that Kayla had been taken away from her mother at 2 years old.  In October 2005 she gave birth to Halyn in San Antonio.  Having never learned maternal skills, she rejected her calf.  Halyn died in San Antonio at only two and a half years old.   In November 2006 Kayla was moved from San Antonio to Orlando.

According the NOAA, female Killer Whales in the wild typically live about 50 years but can live as long as 100 years.  Granny, the infamous matriarch of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, is estimated to be 103 years old.  Granny made waves earlier this year when she was spotted after traveling 800 miles in a little over a week with her pod.

Then there’s Kayla…

Naomi Rose of Animal Welfare Institute observed that “the logging behavior was excessive and especially troubling given the activity of the other whales in the tank” 

To put things in perspective

What’s Happening at Wild Arctic?

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A short distance away from Shamu Stadium, ​My Fox Orlando reported on Tuesday that SeaWorld has recently acquired their “most eligible beluga bachelor”, Nanuq.  Nanuq arrived in Orlando from San Diego in June in hopes of expanding their beluga family.  Belugas typically do not fair well in captivity.  The ​oldest reported, Kavna, died at Vancouver Aquarium in 2012 at 46 years old.  Vancouver Park Board recently ​voted unanimously to ban further breeding of captive cetaceans.  Meanwhile, Georgia Aquarium continues ​the fight to import 18 wild-captured belugas from Russia.

Perhaps SeaWorld decided to report the news this week to divert attention from the ​death of their last polar bear, Johnny, last week. Johnny’s enclosure had been boarded up with no explanation.  Time will tell if SeaWorld will ​honor his death by keeping it empty.