A couple of weeks back Assemblyman Richard Bloom introduced AB 2140, legislation that would put a stop to the practice of using orcas as performers, along with ending captive breeding programs and trafficking of the species in California.
SeaWorld, which has been in major damage control mode since release of the Blackfish documentary last fall, has seized upon this opportunity to bring its story to the media. There has been a virtual blitzkreig of coverage about the many wonderful accomplishments of this salt water-based amusement park.
Given that the San Diego City Council will most likely be declaring March to be “Sea World San Diego’s 50th Anniversary Month” later this week, we’ll take a look at some of the local reportage and commentary on this subject today.
My assessment of SeaWorld’s messaging thus far is that everybody should know by now about what a wonderful, job-producing asset to the community the Mission Bay facility is and all the charges against it are coming from animal rights extremists who have no idea of what they are talking about. Cough, cough.
While the primary advocates for maintaining the status quo are getting plenty of press, secondary and tertiary advocates are the ones being called upon for rebuttal. Despite what you might have been told, opposition to the practice of using sea mammals as props in amusement parks goes beyond PETA (People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals) and the few disgruntled ex-SeaWorld employees appearing in the Blackfish documentary.
UT- San Diego staged a Sunday paper debate, featuring Assemblyman Bloom, sponsor of the Orca Welfare and Safety Act versus SeaWorld’s vice president of zoological operations Mike Scarpuzzi. (Click on the names to read their positions.)
The Data Driven Case
Voice of San Diego has set out to “explore” the role of SeaWorld in our city with a mega-series of articles. In terms of all the numbers and factoids you’ll ever want to see, this series is the place to go. Here’s how it all started back on February 24th:
It all started with a magazine story about a killer whale named Tilikum.
In 2010, filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite read an article about the 12,000-pound orca tied to three deaths at wild animal parks, including two at SeaWorld. She decided to investigate.
What resulted was “Blackfish,” a documentary millions of Americans watched on CNN and Netflix – and serious blowback for SeaWorld, a publicly traded company that will celebrate its 50th anniversary next month.
The film, which argues killer whales don’t belong in captivity, raises both moral and economic questions about one of our region’s major tourist attractions.
Reporter Lisa Halverstadt makes a data driven case for (I think) the facility in the series, pointing out in detail its impact on the local economy along with refutations of the arguments made in Blackfish. This has led to suggestions via social media and elsewhere that VOSD is in the tank (pun intended, thank you) for SeaWorld.
In what is an interesting twist on the adage of the “pot calling the kettle black,” UT Watchdog editor Ricky Young (upset with what he feels was a nit-picky Fact Check) has suggested on Twitter that “I’ve had people suggest we should see whether SeaWorld is secretly underwriting latest quest.”
I think the real issue with much of the local coverage is that fails it to take into account the moral framework for the arguments against performing orcas.
Breaking Through the Local Echo Chamber
Seth Hall, who is a contributor to VOSD, has posted a comprehensive critique of their coverage, pointing out what he sees as deficiencies in the approach thus far. Calling out the series as “a worship service of SeaWorld’s economic import to San Diego,” he concludes:
What should be “next up” is perhaps is some discussion of censorship of anti-SeaWorld advertisements at the San Diego airport. Or perhaps an ongoing international movement to recognize the “rights” of whales and dolphins. Maybe, at the very least, we could start including the voices of some local SeaWorld protesters in the stories: they aren’t hard to find. This series started because of a critical film; are those filmmakers so eager to have their voices excluded from the narrative?
How is it possible for a news organization to advocate for a private company in such an absolute way, without involving any opposing perspectives, over a such a numerous series of articles? Where are the responses from activists, and where are the opposing viewpoints of San Diego’s dependence on SeaWorld? The answer is that they are on Twitter and in reader comments of the published stories.
The Passionate Moral Argument
I’ve been negotiating (or trying to negotiate) for over a week now, trying to get permission to reprint some of the thoughts of Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepard Conservation Society.
What I was looking to do was to post a passionate moral argument from an activist position, since I’ve felt that’s not been part of this debate. Even conservation groups have bureaucracies I guess, so I’m just going to go for a little “fair use” here.
Today the mayor of San Diego announced that Sea World is important to the San Diego economy and that this California bill to ban performances by marine mammals will hurt San Diego’s economy if it passes.
It could also be said that Dachau was important to the economy of Munich. It can be argued that slavery was important to the economy of the South.
There can never be any economic justification for slavery or animal abuse. Bull-fighting was a big part of the economy of Catalonia, Spain, yet they have banned this sadistic sport because it is unethical and has no place in the 21st Century.
Forcing highly intelligent, socially complex, self-aware sentient beings to perform tricks for humans in a coliseum atmosphere has no place in the 21st Century either.
Remember this is about abuse and irresponsibility. It is about the death of a trainer and the captivity and suffering of intelligent beings.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is dedicated to closing the doors to Sea World. We are dedicated to ending the captivity of marine mammals. We are dedicated to ending the ruthless slaughter of dolphins by the captivity industry. We are dedicated to replacing these circus facilities that exploit dolphins with educational facilities that tell the public exactly what is happening in our oceans, especially the diminishment of bio-diversity.
We will not be distracted. We know who our enemy is. That enemy is the mentality that treats animals as objects of entertainment and abuses them for profit.
I know this quote is strong stuff, the kind of rhetoric that the spinmeisters at SeaWorld will tsk-tsk at and call extremist. But I post it to make a point. This ‘debate’ about animals performing in an amusement park isn’t about data. It’s about a larger shift in perceptions and ethics.
Sea World’s Winning the Battle, Losing the War
I suspect SeaWorld will “win” this public relations battle and that AB 2140 won’t get close to being enacted this time around. I don’t think they’ll win the long term struggle here. If they were smart, they’d put some of that energy and money they’re using to try and shape perceptions into building a new business model.
I get it that extending the moral basis for the arguments against performing animals will ultimately lead to larger changes in the ethics of our society, changes that I’m frankly not ready to accept. But looking at the larger and long-term picture, I know there is zero probability of resisting the incoming tide of change.
If we humans are truly an intelligent species, we’re going to have to re-evaluate all our relationships on and with planet earth. And if your understanding of the universe includes the premise that our species is somehow superior and destined to reign over the cosmos, it’s probably pretty hard to fathom why people are squawking about orcas.
‘Jobs Coalition’ Declines Debate on Barrio Logan Plan
The Point Loma Democratic Club hoped that a community forum on the upcoming ballot measure urging repeal of the Barrio Logan Community Plan would be an opportunity for their members and other in the community to hear first hand about the issue.
From the current edition of their newsletter:
Many years of discussion came to a head last year just before the Mayoral special election. David Alvarez had been closely involved as the representative for the district, and as a first-hand sufferer of pollution generated in the area. Kevin Faulconer sided against the rule of representative democracy and with the lobbying power of big business who collected signatures (possibly illegally) to place an overturn of the plan’s adoption on this summer’s ballot. The issue was used (and abused) in Mayoral campaign literature, local reports discredited the actions of ballot signature gatherers, and the UNION-t predictably sided against people and with corporations (while blaming Democrats).
There are always (at least) two sides to every story (see this Voice of San Diego article by Andrew Keats) so we were delighted when the club was contacted by Cynthia Ibarra of the lobbying group Protect Our Jobs Coalition, to present the industries’ side. We reached out to supporters of community planning, including our own club member Bruce Coons, and Georgette Gomez an Environmental Policy Advisor for the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC).
When we informed the lobbyist organization that we were planning the event as a discussion with other parties, suddenly their spokespeople were no longer available to attend. We offered to read their statement, or reschedule, but they made it clear they would not be able to accommodate an informed discussion, only a one-way presentation. We did not think that was acceptable.
Perhaps the Point Loma Dems can rig up a cardboard cut-out of former Mayor Jerry Sanders holding up a big sign saying “Job Killer” to join the discussion. That’s about as deep as the “Jobs Coalition;s” arguments go anyway.
On This Day: 1884 – In Otay, California, John Joseph Montgomery made the first manned, controlled, heavier-than-air glider flight in the United States. 1956 – Carl Perkins appeared on ABC-TV’s “Ozark Jubilee” and performed “Blue Suede Shoes.” It was his first television appearance. Elvis Presley performed the song the same night on CBS-TV’s “Stage Show.” 1970 – The U.S. Army charged 14 officers with suppression of facts in the My Lai massacre case.
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Frank Gormlie says
How ’bout a “hat-tip” oh Doug-aroo?
Frank Gormlie says
I LOVE that headline!
Thank you for the more balanced coverage of the SeaWorld debate — which really is a debate (again) about what kind of world we want the 21st Century to be. I will comment more fully later, but I wanted to point out that you have the SeaWorld VP’s name wrong — it’s Scarpuzzi, not Bloom (like the Assemblymember).
Julian Christian says
Excellent article. You make so many right on points.
Julian Christian says
Let’s not forget that these orca shows are telling our children that these intelligent and sentient creatures are here to perform tricks for our amusement. That is not respecting nature and teaches our children that we are to use the power of nature for our entertainment.
As someone who thinks the killer whale shows should be shut down, I admit the irony is that I think this because of some of the summer classes I took as a child… at Sea World.
They did their job very well.
Thank you so much for a clear, concise, complete, truthful &
balanced information regarding the debacle known as SeaWorld.
Although we are all aware of the good they do helping injured wildlife, the harm they do
out weighs Any positives. We need to continue to support the people that are raising awareness & pray for our poor ignorant mayor who does not know the error if his ways in so many areas. Especially this one. Lets watch…. One day he will change his tune & begin to understand about the negatives of SW when big business that supports him finally dies the right thing as he is really just a follower from way back.
Pray for all the SW creatures too. SW, your days are numbered, may you rest in peace, Soon.
I’m glad Blackfish has opened so many more people’s eyes! When I was younger, I went to SeaWorld and gawked at the performing dolphins and orcas. I was entertained, not educated. All a marine park experience teaches people is that it’s acceptable to keep animals in highly unnatural environments and make them to do tricks for our amusement. People don’t see marine mammals behaving like marine mammals at SeaWorld — they see sick, stressed captive mammals behaving how someone manipulates them to. Marine mammal shows should be banned everywhere.
Well said. As a former SW employee, I saw things I did not like 20 Yrs ago & left the job. I would like All places like SW to stop using mammals for their money makers.
Thank you for your letter.
Alfredo Kuba says
Great piece Doug! Corporations have become so predictable in their response to criticism when exposed. They first use their PR machine to twist and manipulate the truth, discredit and resort to name calling reputable sources through their corporate owned and controlled media and of course censor all criticism from the major corporate media. They also use the same arguments when threaten by legislation that would harm them, “It will cost jobs” “it will be devastating to the local economy” etc. All of these ridiculous statements are made without any objectivity or any studies to back them off. Finally they resort to bribing politicians and using their power and money to thwart the people’s will.
Alfredo Kuba says
Hey Doug, I am a plaintiff in 2 law suits against Sea World in Federal and State court pertaining to Sea World violating people’s first amendment rights for over 22 years.
Care to do a story?
How did they violate anyone’s first admendment rights?
Is the story going to be about militant uneducated vegans who don’t understand the Constitution ?
Pro Cap says
Haha, that’s funny. ‘Cause I was just thinking about how PETA violates the first amendment rights of people like me on their blog by only publishing animal rights-supportive comments…
Doug Porter says
Dear Pro Cap:
You get an “F” in government for today. The First Amendment only refers to government. Not individuals, companies or organizations.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Pro Cap says
Then how can Alfredo Kuba sue SeaWorld for a violation of his/her first amendment rights?
I realize that was a silly mistake. Live and learn…
How can a corporation violate your 1st amendment? That amendment sets limits on the government, not individuals or businesses.
Eric Mills says
Thanks for a good and thoughtful column, Mr. Porter. I think the majority of the public share the sentiments expressed therein.
Assemblymember Richard Bloom’s AB 2140 will likely be assigned to the 15-member ASSEMBLY WATER, PARKS & WILDLIFE COMMITTEE, for an April hearing. Committee chair is Anthony Rendon. Other members are Frank Bigelow, Travis Allen, Raul Bocanegra, Brian Dahle, Paul Fong, Jim Frazier, Beth Gaines, Mike Gatto, Jimmy Gomez, Lorena Gonzalez, Adam Gray, Jim Patterson, Freddie Rodriguez and Mariko Yamada–(10 Democrats & 5 Republicans. Animal welfare and environmental issues should be bi-partisan, of course, but they seldom are in Sacramento.)
Support letters are needed NOW for AB 2140. ALL LEGISLATORS MAY BE WRITTEN C/O THE STATE CAPITOL, SACRAMENTO, CA 95814. Be sure to send Mr. Bloom a much-deserved thank-you note. (He also carried last year’s successful Bobcat Protection legislation–a good man, he.)
Just for the record, despite getting most of the press, PETA is NOT the sponsor of this legislation. That would be the ANIMAL PROTECTION INSTITUTE.
Save the Whales! And encourage any environmental organization of which you are a member to send in letters of support, too.
Eric Mills, coordinator
ACTION FOR ANIMALS
Eric Mills says
CORRECTION – The bill’s sponsor is the ANIMAL WELFARE INSTITUTE (not the Animal Protection Institute).
)Note to self: Don’t comment when hung over.)
“)Note to self: Don’t comment when hung over.)”
Glad to hear of your responsibility.
Happy SeaWorld Month!
Julian Christian says
Thank you Eric. We appreciate your hard work on this issue.
Eric Mills says
Yours, too, Julian. As The Lorax says, “If somebody like YOU doesn’t care a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
AGAIN, ALL STATE LEGISLATORS MAY BE WRITTEN C/O THE STATE CAPITOL, SACRAMENTO, CA 95814.
Let’s get those support letters for AB 2140 in NOW.
Any article that keeps the Cetaceans in captivity in the public eye is a great thing. It is about time that as supposedly the most intellegent species on Earth it would be nice if we took responsibility for all the wrongs we have and continue to commit against nature. These magnificent creatures belong to all of us not Sea World and alike and they should be free for all of us to see. Who thought it was their right to take these amazing creatures out of the ocean, kidnap them, abduct them from their loved ones and keep them in chlorine, flush out the cavities in their teeth, because they damage them, as they are habitually unhappy. Who. Nobody has that right. I want my children to be able to see them wild and free exhibiting natural behaviours, not being treated like a circus pony. Who really blames Tillikum for the 3 deaths. Teased, tormented and made to beg for dead fish. Used as a sperm donor. How humiliating. He should be out there with his pod, proud and strong with an upright dorsal fin. Maybe if he kills a few more people, somebody at Sea World will say enough is enough and this is not how they should be kept. What will it take. We the people who will never go through Sea World’s or any Cetacean aquarium’s door will never be silenced and will never give up wanting them to be free.
Julian Christian says
Right on Tanya!
Lynn Wilson says
Before watching this film, Blackfish, I never once gave thought to how horrendous the lives of these beautiful creatures being pulled from their natural environments have been. Their trainers truly seemed so loving towards them that I truly believed they were the lucky ones, the safe ones. Now however I know differently and feel proud that our world is recognizing how very horrendous their lives in captivity have been. I BELIEVE THAT THEY SHOULD ALL BE RELEASED FROM CAPTIVITY IMMEDIATELY. I also think that we need to start thinking about animals kept in Zoos in the same manner, is life good for them, I NOW DOUBT THIS VERY MUCH! Lets just enjoy reading about them and allow all our naturally wild animals in captivity to be released into their natural habitat.