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Blackfish Effect At Work: Southwest Airlines

February 12, 2014

It has been amazing to see all the Blackfish-inspired efforts to campaign for changes in the way we see and think about SeaWorld and the captive display of orcas. There have been a multitude of grassroots petitions urging musical acts to avoid playing at SeaWorld. There have also been grassroots efforts to inspire SeaWorld’s corporate partners to revisit their relationship with a business that displays orcas. For example, this petition to Southwest Airlines.

The response from singers and bands has been impressive. But getting corporate partners to move on from longstanding relationships is a bigger challenge, and multiple approaches are possible. That’s why I wanted to flag Kimberly Ventre’s quiet and respectful effort to engage Southwest about its relationship with SeaWorld. Instead of rallying thousands of potential fliers to petition Southwest, it is based on a strategy of trying to engage Southwest’s leadership in a thoughtful conversation about SeaWorld and captivity (and included offers to screen Blackfish and have some of the former SeaWorld trainers who featured in Blackfish meet with Southwest executives; Ventre is former SeaWorld trainer Jeff Ventre’s sister, and a devoted Southwest flier).

Southwest has been open and responsive, but also hasn’t accepted Ventre’s offer for further engagement and discussion. They did send her a Southwest thumb drive, but I suspect that won’t be enough to deter her from her goal of having Southwest revisit its SeaWorld partnership.

It will be interesting to see whether this alternative approach to the Blackfish Effect will succeed. And whether it can be a good model for change. So, for the record, I am posting a summary from Ventre regarding her Southwest campaign, as well as the letters that have gone back and forth.

Here’s Ventre:

When is the last time you wrote an airline and they responded right away? This is why I love Southwest. They are different. They are thoughtful. They listen.

Recently, I sent a letter to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly (and four other executives) expressing my concern over their on-going partnership with SeaWorld. I explained a group of scientists, filmmakers, and authors were willing to come present the facts surrounding orcas and captivity. Shortly thereafter, I received an encouraging response.

Southwest’s leadership team said their eyes and ears are not closed and vowed to “remain transparent and open in their desire to learn and educate (them)selves.” Remarkably, they confirmed they had seen Blackfish and said they would read Death at SeaWorld as well as the other articles I provided.

Their transparency, willingness to engage in dialogue and commitment to do their due diligence are all hallmarks of great global brands. Their partner SeaWorld could learn a lot from them.

Southwest asked for patience as they move through their learning process. As they begin to understand the real story of Shamu, they will reach the same conclusion millions around the globe already have. What was once popular is now seen as an inhumane. I believe Southwest will evolve and choose to be on the right side of history.

See my letter to Southwest and their response.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2014 12:55 pm

    Reblogged this on Ocean Advocate.

  2. Steve C permalink
    February 12, 2014 2:27 pm

    I flew them last week, got a follow up survey and mentioned exactly this. Times do change as well as awareness.

  3. Robert permalink
    February 12, 2014 2:47 pm

    I appreciate Ms. Ventre’s efforts with this. I like the line: “What was once popular is now seen as an inhumane.” Change is coming….

    (By the way, what is a “Southwest thumb drive?”)

  4. February 12, 2014 4:03 pm

    Attitudes do indeed evolve. In the 70’s I lived in San Pedro, CA and had an annual pass to Marineland of the Pacific. I was “ga-ga” over Orky and Corky. I knew the show and all the routines and loved it when one of the whales would resist and not perform according to instructions. I was a day care teacher at the time and saw the whales as mischievous. When they moved to San Diego I thought it a good thing because they would have more space,. but it resulted in Orky’s death.
    I had similar reactions to the elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees at the zoo. That was then.
    Humans have learned so much about animals and their communications, and culture and emotions Koko learned sign language and made up a word for kitten ….ballsoft… I think it was. Dolphins learned to touch symbols to communicate. We recognized that elephants grieve when one in their herd dies and recognize old friends after a long absence. There is nt justification for keeping these great and noble creatures captive. There may be some circumstance with a wounded animal that couldn’t be rehabilitated and released…..but when you look into the eyes of any captive animal you cannot help but see their suffering.

    • Monica Gilbert permalink
      February 12, 2014 8:54 pm

      Beautifully put Sue Roediger.

  5. February 15, 2014 11:49 pm

    Good Job! I have been wanting to get support for Southwest cutting their alignment with Sea World. This is one of the major partnerships aside from Coca Cola and Panama Jack.
    I signed the petition. My suggestion for Southwest is instead of wasting money painting a plane like Shamu, they could easily make a donation to a conservation fund and promote their airline though a channel of value, not animal exploitation. Thank You for this post!

  6. Koni permalink
    February 23, 2014 10:20 am

    Absolutely wonderful, Ms. Ventre. Topic approached with knowledge, research, and a sincere interest in the company (Southwest).

  7. Bertille permalink
    May 23, 2014 11:26 am

    I wrote to them yesterday, and I received an answer today (which is very quick indeed, but the answer let think that they will not stop their partnership with Seaworld):

    Thank you for your e-mail regarding our partnership with SeaWorld. Southwest has a longstanding relationship with SeaWorld that is based on travel and bringing families together. We are currently in a multi-year contract with SeaWorld, and we are not contemplating changes to that at this time. We are engaged with Sea World related to the recent concerns being raised. We are in a listening and education mode with the goal of upholding our commitments as a good corporate citizen, so we appreciate your bringing your concerns to our attention.

    At least, they seem to take seriously this topic which is good (face to the denial of Seaworld…)


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