Greg Allen, NPR’s Miami reporter got in touch earlier this week while reporting a story on SeaWorld’s efforts to rebound from its post-Blackfish malaise. Here’s the story Allen aired on All Things Considered this evening.
It’s interesting to note that SeaWorld seems to have decided that its head vet, Chris Dold, is SeaWorld’s most effective spokesperson (when I did my Shamu Stadium tour, in 2010, head trainer Kelley Flaherty-Clark was my guide.
Dold is definitely smooth, but he constructs a popular SeaWorld straw man when he says that Blackfish attacks SeaWorld’s staff as uncaring or abusive with SeaWorld’s killer whales. Quite the contrary. SeaWorld’s killer whales are worth millions and are the core of SeaWorld’s business, and therefore SeaWorld has every incentive to do everything it can to keep them healthy (and breeding). And I’ve always felt SeaWorld’s personnel, especially the trainers and Animal Care staff, are sincere in their efforts to care for the whales.
But when SeaWorld’s business interests conflict with the killer whales’ interests (such as the age or frequency with which females are bred; of mother-calf separations, for example) it is usually the business interests which prevail. And, more broadly, there is a limit to what can be achieved even with sincere efforts to care for the killer whales if the environment itself is inherently unsuitable. So I wouldn’t say SeaWorld’s people are abusive. I would say the killer whale entertainment business is abusive.