This Washington Post story does an excellent job of running through the timeline of SeaWorld’s public and private actions in response to Blackfish. And, yes, they shamelessly (and maybe illegally, it turns out) tied themselves in knots to reject or downplay any Blackfish effect, even while insiders sold shares:
In reality, the company was waging a serious campaign — and leveraging considerable money — against the “’Blackfish’ effect.”
The complaint accused the company of feeding employees lines to use regarding the film and instructing them to “dissuade family and friends” from watching. SeaWorld executives also hired a public relations firm to handle the criticism, and one executive reached out to ultimately 50 major film reviewers to discredit “Blackfish.”
In 2014, the company provided the funding for a website that also aimed to discredit the movie, and SeaWorld would also eventually task employees with infiltrating PETA and other animal rights groups.
But following the IPO, the company maintained the film was no cause for alarm and had not sparked backlash against the brand. On Aug. 29, 2013, a company executive told the Los Angeles Times “’Blackfish’ has had no attendance impact.” The same executive told Bloomberg SeaWorld “can attribute no attendance impact at all to the movie.”
To me, this sort of baldfaced denial is a powerful reminder of just how arrogant SeaWorld was (both its corporate culture and its leadership) following decades of profits and unthinking adulation. The old guard running the place really didn’t believe anything could touch them. And now they may be called to account.