The “Blackfish Effect” Marks a Major Moral Uprising

The Blackfish Effect & Apartheid Unleash Empathy (Part 2)

Posted Dec 20, 2013

Blackfish Media Photo Gallery. Photo by Gabriela Cowperthwaite - © 2013 - Magnolia Pictures
Children observe captive orca
Source: Blackfish Media Photo Gallery. Photo by Gabriela Cowperthwaite - © 2013 - Magnolia Pictures

If SeaWorld is the new Sun City, it’s time to understand the so-called “Blackfish Effect.” The oddly remarkable confluence of Nelson Mandela’s death with the explosive exodus of world-famous bands from SeaWorld’s annual music festival, “confirms that it’s not too early to link what has become known as ‘the Blackfish Effect’ to a moral uprising akin to the one that eventually overthrew apartheid.” (see Part 1)

The bands that ditched SeaWorld instantly joined a history-making troupe of artists, activists, writers, journalists, and many others who’ve confronted truths that incite their moral outrage, and who’ve then taken action. SeaWorld, meanwhile, has failed miserably to respond with integrity or honesty to the concerns raised by Blackfish or the brilliant investigative journalism of Death at SeaWorld by David Kirby (and see Blackfish Friday). Instead of giving its fans—and the American public—one shred of scientific response to the bands’ exodus (see Elizabeth Batt’s list, “SeaWorld has yet to:” in her Dec 18 Op-Ed), its PR machine sounds almost absurd as it accuses “a small group of misinformed individuals” and animal extremists groups” of a “coordinated campaign of digital harassment and does not in any sense represent the opinions of the American public.” 

[This, “digital harassment” comment, ironically, from a company that—beyond its enslavement of massively intelligent and social mammals—routinely teaches mature male killer whales to roll over, eject their penises, masturbate them, and collect sperm for their captive breeding program. Highly related animals end up bred to one another, in a systemic and extreme inbreeding situation. And see Shamu the Slut]

This last quote from SeaWorld, by the way, comes from an interview on CBS This Morning on December 18, that begins, “The public relations crisis is growing this morning at one of America’s best known aquatic theme parks…”

Public relations crisis? Or Blackfish Effect?

[BREAKING: This just in: In a remarkable testament to the Blackfish Effect, as this blog went live, SeaWorld place full-paged ads in newspapers around the country (on December 20), in an attempt to counter the backlash. Mo Brock, quickly slammed those ads calling them an "insult to both human and orca." While the Orca Project posted an Open Letter BACK to SeaWorld from Amy Costanza, an attorney and former SeaWorld visitor, denouncing SeaWorld's assertions. By December 22, former SeaWorld trainer's countered SeaWorld's ad claims decisively, thanks to Elizabeth Batt at Digital Journal. Further, the Oceanic Preservation Society (the filmmakers of the Academy Award winning documentary The Cove), has also just issued an Open Letter in response to the ads that SeaWorld ran. The letter begins: "Inaccurate reports from SeaWorld recently placed in full-page advertisements in major newspapers included a series of mistruths about the quality of life of the animals in its care."] 

Because what’s happening here has far more to do with fact than opinions, and what SeaWorld fails to see is that the opinions of the American public are changing fast because they are getting the facts: facts that become intolerable against the love and reverence so many people have for the majestic beings that are arguably more highly evolved than humans, have far tighter family bonds, forage for wild food over dozens or hundreds of miles, and who are regularly and systemically brutalized by captivity no matter how “healthy” or “educational” SeaWorld paints their “sea” worlds of concrete.

David Kirby recently considered whether SeaWorld succeeds at its professed mission to educate people about killer whales, and had this to say: 

“I went to SeaWorld several times to research my book, and attended both the "Believe" and "One Ocean" Shamu shows, where I heard virtually nothing that would educate people about killer whales in the wild, how long they live, their social bonds, their hunting patterns, and ways to conserve their threatened natural habitats.

Instead, I "learned" that whales like blaring music, roaring crowds, back-flips and French kissing. When I left, instead of hearing people talk about saving wild whales, they were talking about the ‘Shamu whales.’ That's bad education, which is worse than no education at all.”

Meanwhile, Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, according to the Orlando Weekly says, "she wasn’t a marine mammal activist before making the film, (and) calls the trend encouraging. ‘If you tell people the truth, they’ll change the way they do things,’ she says. ‘They’ll make powerful and dignified decisions.’” 

Unless SeaWorld quickly addresses those facts the company will continue its dramatic slide. NASDAQ reported, also on December 18, that Blackstone subsidiaries dumped the bulk of their SeaWorld stock.  Blackstone was the main shareholder of SeaWorld stock. Blackstone, it seems, is taking a lesson from the bands and is, likewise, jumping ship. Which is a good business decision when you realize that Blackfish just went public: on December 12 Netflix released Blackfish via the streaming option to its 30+ million viewers. Still, SeaWorld insists that all is well with their world even as they went to Groupon on December 19, offering discount tickets in an attempt to tempt fans. 

Blackstone’s dump and the bands’ exodus are only two of the more dramatic results of the Blackfish Effect. Carl Hiaasen, acclaimed and bestselling author, started his scathing December 14 denouncement  of SeaWorld, “Well God Bless Willie Nelson.” And The Malibu Times reported, also on the 18th, that Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School cancelled its annual overnight trip to SeaWorld after “after students and parents complained of unethical treatment of orca whales alleged at the park in the controversial new documentary Blackfish.” That same day, CNN picked up the story and gave it national coverage.  

Public relations crisis, indeed.

The Blackfish Effect is not a public relations crisis; it’s a response to a moral crisis. Minister Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti, a senior minister with the Unitarian Universalist Church, writes: "As the major religions teach us, we are stewards of this planet and its resources, not dictators who can do whatever we wish in the name of entertainment or profit….If you have not already seen Blackfish, I urge you to see it. It is one of the most shocking and morally significant films of 2013."

[The film, by the way, has already won numerous awards (and this just in, the Las Vegas Films Critics Society) and critic’s choice reviews, and is on the short-list as an Oscar contender.]

As I wrote in Part 1, “Blackfish smacked the glossy distortions of SeaWorld wide open, while David Kirby’s paradigm-shattering book Death at SeaWorld sealed its fate by casting a tremendous spotlight on corporate truths that the company has so-far managed to keep hidden.”

The natural human response to these facts is outrage. Outrage against injustice and suffering. Outrage fueled by empathy…one of our world’s greatest powers. It is the same power that Nelson Mandela tapped, along with Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Jesus, Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, Mother Theresa, and so many countless others…known and unknown.

Not surprisingly, Kirby had this to say recently after he gave the keynote address at the 2013 World Whale Conference about his inspiration for writing Death at SeaWorld, “It had nothing to do with killer whales,” he said. “It had to do with SeaWorld. It was not only a corporate malfeasance story and a worker-safety story. This is a story about captivity.”

“I’m a journalist and also a human being,” he added. “I know right from wrong. It’s wrong.”

The Blackfish Effect taps the moral outrage of our time: the huge and devastating impact of cultural and corporate domination of the Earth, as well as humans and non-humans alike. The same impact that has allowed for captivity, corruption, lies, subjugation, slavery, and oppression. The same impact that is, right now, wreaking havoc on all of earth’s systems—its oceans, its soils, its people, its animals, and most critically momentous, its climate—is made heartrendingly visible by Blackfish.

And, perhaps key to understanding the Blackfish Effect itself, it gives the global public a way to act. A place to put their outrage. Something they can sink their teeth into, and effect actual change in an era when far too many people feel powerless about what is happening to their world. Change, which—as evidenced by the Blackfish Effect—is happening. And happening explosively! Once people see what they can do, and are motivated by why they want to do it, Blackfish will only be the beginning of a massive dismantling of corporate and cultural domination. No wonder it set off a firestorm.

When I suggested Death at SeaWorld was a bellwether, just six weeks ago, I had no idea how fast things would happen. No one did.

And like so many other troubled, broken, deeply out-of-balance systems in the world, there are solutions already in place to respond to the Blackfish Effect. Solutions that will shift corporations and culture away from systemic brutality and towards the much needed higher-order capacity of humanity: global empathy. In A Win-win solution for captive orcas and marine theme parks, Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D., details a robust, scientifically-sound, and undeniably sane response to the concerns raised by Blackfish. A response that encourages sea parks to become more like a sanctuaries and less like a circuses. Rose is a, "marine mammal scientist and part of a team working with Merlin Entertainments Group to create the first sanctuary for captive bottlenose dolphins."

Meanwhile, similarly sound proposals are in place to retire some of the oldest orcas in captivity to their families—families whom researchers know on sight. Lolita, for instance. And Morgan. And Corky. (For a reminder the long decades these animals have endured their existence, watch this 1993 ABC Nightline segment on Corky, who hears a recording of her family after decades away from them.)  

These solutions simply need to be adopted. If the fiery trajectory of the Blackfish Effect continues, it may be that the true meaning of Christmas will find its way to captive cetaceans sooner than we think…but never soon enough.

Because the fact of the matter is, Earth is the real sea world. And whales belong in Earth's seas. Not a corporation's.


Earth is Sea World (A few words are added, set to We Are the World)
There comes a time when we hear a certain call
When the world must come together as one
There are many dying and it's time to lend a hand To life the greatest gift of all
We can't go on pretending day by day
That someone, somewhere will soon make a change
We are all part of God's great big family
And the truth, you know, love is all we need
Earth is sea world, we stand with freedom
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let’s start changing
There's a choice we're making
We're saving all their lives
Its true we'll make a better day
Just you and me
Send them your heart so they'll know that someone cares
And their lives will be stronger and free
As God has shown us by turning stones to bread
So we all must lend a helping hand
When you're down and out, there seems no hope at all
But if you just believe there's no way we can fall well well well
Let us realize that a change can only come
When we stand together as one.

Read When the bands bolt: SeaWorld is the new Sun City, The Blackfish Effect & Apartheid Unleash Empathy (Part 1) 

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© Rachel Clark. Reprint with the specific permission of the author.

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