The Documentary Blackfish Is Still Creating Waves at SeaWorld

Musical acts are canceling SeaWorld shows, citing the unsettling documentary's influence

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The rock band Heart joins a expanding group of musical artists who’ve cancelled scheduled performances at SeaWorld — they’ve all cited by the documentary Blackfish, which depicts the dark side of orcas living in captivity at the marine park, for leading them to this decision.

Sisters Nancy Wilson and Ann Wilson of Heart were scheduled to play at SeaWorld Orlando next year, but tweeted on their official account on Dec. 7:

This cancellation follows on the heels of Willie Nelson’s decision to cancel a similar gig in early December, and the Barenaked Ladies’s cancellation in late November. The Canadian rock group took to Facebook to write that, “This is a complicated issue, and we don’t claim to understand all of it, but we don’t feel comfortable proceeding with the gig at this time.”

Then, on Dec. 9, long-time animal rights advocate Joan Jett sent SeaWorld a cease-and-desist letter asking the park to stop playing her 1982 track “I Love Rock’n’Roll”, writing, “I’m among the millions who saw Blackfish and am sickened that my music was blasted without my permission at sound-sensitive marine mammals.”

The documentary centers on the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by an orca named Tilikum, as well as the practice of keeping such whales in captivity. As Mary Pols notes in her review of the film for TIME, “it’s a troubling and crushingly sad tale.” Even the trailer is upsetting:

For its part, SeaWorld — who did not participate in the film — has formally denounced the doc, telling TIME that Blackfish is “inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau’s family, friends and colleagues.”

Blackfish has been causing waves for the theme park for months now. The doc premiered at Sundance in January 2013, where it immediately caught critics’ attention. After a wider U.S. release on July 19 and a CNN broadcast in October, it caught the internet’s attention. Fans and activists have been campaigning against SeaWorld with a host of online petitions cropping up on Change.org and similar sites. Many of the campaigns are aimed at performers scheduled to play at the theme park. In addition to these three musical acts, advocates have petitioned Cheap Trick and REO Speedwagon, among others, to cancel upcoming performances. (Representatives for Cheap Trick declined to comment on the petition, while reps for REO Speedwagon did not reply.)

Responding to the cancellations, SeaWorld spokesperson Nick Gollattscheck emailed TIME a statement, reading, “While we’re disappointed a small group of misinformed individuals was able to deny fans what would have been great concerts at SeaWorld by Heart, Barenaked Ladies and Willie Nelson, we respect the bands’ decisions. The bands and artists have a standing invitation to visit any of our parks to see firsthand or to speak to any of our animal experts to learn for themselves how we care for animals and how little truth there is to the allegations made by animal extremist groups opposed to the zoological display of marine mammals. “

While the film has created a controversy for SeaWorld, it’s still unclear how that has translated in terms of park ticket sales. Though the Los Angeles Times reported in August that attendance at SeaWorld had dropped by six percent in the first half of 2013, the park stated that the drop was attributable to bad weather in Florida and Virginia. Then again, that drop took place prior to CNN airing Blackfish, which likely garnered a whole new crop of viewers.

Now, as the number of cancellations increase — not to mention the number of headlines — it’s hard to imagine the controversy fizzling out quietly. Blackfish‘s director Gabriela Cowperthwaite tells me that she found it “heartening” to learn of the online petitions and the response from musical acts. “The film is a truthful document,” she says. And Seaworld? “It’s an industry based on fairy tales.”

16 comments
SandraVanMaastrichtTrythall
SandraVanMaastrichtTrythall

Really? You're all jumping on the bandwagon now? While these may be documentaries, don't any of you remember the message Free Willy sent? I'd have more respect for all of you if instead of abandoning Sea World, you all worked WITH Sea World to help not just orcas but all creatures of the sea. They can't do it alone. And, many people have no reason to be concerned because certain animals are just TV or movie characters. Zoos and aquariums bring these animals closer to people and once they've seen them, they have a reason to be concerned. I believe celebrities need to get over themselves and use their celebrity for  good without promoting themselves!

MarkPickering
MarkPickering

I was neutral on this issue until I watched both The Cove and Blackfish. I'm a film-maker and I found Blackfish to give quite a balanced and well researched account. Even former trainers were on there saying how awful they felt for being so naive. It stinks, there is way too much money involved for Seaworld to concede any wrong doing, they will blindly tow the company line. Can anyone from Seaworld explain to me why Orca die much younger in captivity? Also, why is it that only Orca in captivity have collapsed dorsal fins?

vickysecho
vickysecho

People are finally waking up to the atrocities done to animals and they will not tolerate it anymore. The reign of inhumane care/acts is coming to an end. Thank you Lord! This isn't about 'radical animal rights people' - this is about humane treatment and respect for animals. Seaworld 'could' be a first class operation - they choose not to be. The animals suffer. This is not acceptable anymore. Change it - advertise the changes made - see if you are on the right track through public opinion.

DottenEric
DottenEric

As a Season pass holder and wildlife supporter Black fish shows a very one side opinion. If this was the case should we close all the zoos and no longer keep pets. Tragic yes, mistakes occurred on all sides, Dawn as a seasoned trainer knew dam well that she was running out of fish and Tilly was frustrated after missing a cue, and going above and beyond to be told sorry you didn't follow directions. Did Sea world make mistakes sure so does every business that makes a profit , Sea World has enlightened the work on Sea Life and conversation and rescue efforts. Sea World needs a strong emergency planner to come up with threat assessment. I saw blackish and i figured PETA must have had a hand in it, CNN  did not give Black fish a fair and Balance report.


If sea world released all the animals they would die in the wild then who would cry a tear, it just the circle of life. I am proud to support Sea world and hope that trainers and whales an interact again with safety precaution and rescuer divers in the tanks as well.


Time, i been a subscriber for years but you doing a diservice without report the other side.


Eric

BS,REMT-P, NCEE

Emergency Management  & Risk  Assessment Consultant

LynneBrown
LynneBrown

For all you do gooders. HOW many animals has Seaworld saved from death, most of you sound just as bad as the film makers


LindaThao
LindaThao

I've been to SeaWorld, NEVER again. It's a circus the way they use these animals to perform stupid tricks. Read the book Death at SeaWorld by David Kirby. These animals are intelligent sentient beings. They are constantly under stress. They die prematurely( over 35 have died in SeaWorld's "care". They are on a constant mixture of drugs for ulcers, immune problems and vitamins since their diets are lacking. They live in tiny concrete tanks. It's awful and nothing can be said to justify it. It's not conservation, it's not education....it's money period.

KitsuneHazard
KitsuneHazard

Funny, Joan Jett played at Busch Gardens Tampa, which is owned by Seaworld Parks in 2011. Some "activist" if she didn't know what was going on already...love her music, but this smells funny. Also, RAK owns the publishing rights to "I Love Rock 'n Roll", not Jett. So who knows what kind of deals they made with it included, but considering she played one of their parks recently, I can't imagine she didn't know about this.


Again, love her music, but I don't think she's thinking clearly on this one fully or realizes who owns her own music at this point. Can't fully blame her, but she's been on about 6 different record labels over the years.

Willie Nelson has played Seaworld for a few years for their Bands, Brew and BBQ event, only missing 2012 since the event first started. He goes and says this about cancelling this year:


"I understand there are petitions going around with thousands of people's names on it, so I had to cancel. Also, I don't agree with the way they treat their animals. It wasn't that hard a deal for me," Nelson is quoted as saying.

Um, dude. If you don't agree why the hell did you play the show at Seaworld in the past? Doesn't make any sense.


Heart claiming that they didn't know the show was going to be at Seaworld from the start? Really? Come on...I'm not buying that one bit there either.


All of that after the documentary "The Cove" came out and people had been railing on Seaworld for years before that even...if they didn't care then, they likely don't now and are just trying to save face.



ErinElizabeth
ErinElizabeth

Ha! Animal activists? Try animal behavioral scientists who are on record (and film) quoted as saying the place is barbaric. Let's stop this madness now. I'm in Central Fla near this hellhole and I promise you sea HURL You are on your way OUT! 

Poppersci
Poppersci

Sea World's first comment. Oh my God. F%k you, Sea World!

rbwno1
rbwno1

@SandraVanMaastrichtTrythall - I agree of the value of exposing people to animals they never would experience but not at such a high sacrifice of an animal. 

davidrzr
davidrzr

What? Blackfish was a very balanced documentary and presented both sides. Did you notice how many former Seaworld personnel they had? Did you notice how Seaworld had no qualms with throwing a trainer (Dawn) under the bus, even though she had always had a pony tail when operating with the whales?

How about all the evidence that Seaworld personnel out right lied in a court of law? Your response makes me think you didn't watch the documentary. Also, during the documentary, not one member being interviewed was advocating blindly releasing all the whales. The older whales would have to live their lives in some form of captivity, just not locked in a tank.

Also, did you notice how Seaworld employees lie about the life expecancty of Orcas in the wilde compared to in captivity? Why is that?

Nothing in your post was based in facts, but all rhetoric. Growing up in San Diego, I've always had a love to Seaworld. But Seaworld has conducted itself unethically in how they have treated the Orcas and covered up the danger (70 instances) of working with Orcas to their employees.

davidrzr
davidrzr

Since you know, why don't you tell us? SeaWorld is not a Wildlife preserve, it is an amusement park with animals. The Oras they have there would be living longer in the wild, a fact that has been proven by science.

toolTool
toolTool

@KitsuneHazard In remarks to your, "why are they just now cancelling after playing the show for the past years".. How were they suppose to know in years previous that in 2013 seaworld would be outted as a whale concentration camp? 

KitsuneHazard
KitsuneHazard

@toolTool First off, here's a few reason why:

2009: The Cove Documentary about dolphin drives in Japan took aim at many places like SeaWorld

2010: Keiko The Untold Story Documentary

Keiko was also covered extensively for years before that due to Free Willy as well during a campaign to free Keiko from the Mexican theme park he was at.

2010: A movement for the release of Tilikum was started by PETA and Motley Crue and widely publicized at that.

Widely known anti-captivity protests at Sealand of the Pacific (who originally captured and mistreated Tilikum btw, not Seaworld) happened in the very early '80s


So, Willy Nelson who comes out and says he doesn't agree with how they treat their animals, was there for 2 years before and saw it first hand. Just now he has a problem? I'm sorry...that's total BS and there's no way around it. 


People have been trying to lambast Seaworld for years, it's just trendy right now because of the documentary, which uses footage from 30-40 years ago, which they openly admit to.