After suffering a virtual PR knockout blow courtesy of the 2013 documentary film Blackfish, SeaWorld has finally announced some changes to one of its parks. SeaWorld stated yesterday that starting in 2016 it would begin phasing out its circus-style orca shows at its San Diego location.
No more Splash Zone.
Pressure has steadily mounted against the theme park since the public became aware of its practices regarding the capture and treatment of orcas. I wrote a bit about the brewing backlash back in 2013, as numerous artists slated to perform at SeaWorld’s “Bands, Brew and BBQ” concert series began to drop out in protest. While the park was initially mum on the deleterious effect of the documentary, the numbers became impossible to ignore.
The park continued to report revenue shortfalls as attendance waned and enthusiasm over the company sharply declined in the eye of the public. SeaWorld’s avoidance of the PR nightmare turned to full-on engagement as it began to dispute the veracity of the documentary and chalk it up to a piece of activist propaganda.
Obviously that tactic was not well-received, so the amusement park is adjusting its approach.
This is not to say that they’re abandoning their orca exhibits altogether, however. The park has stated that it will instead pivot to a more “natural” vehicle for displaying its orcas—a move which has many in the activist community feeling dismayed. There will also be no changes to animal operations outside of its park in San Diego.
It remains to be seen if this will prove a rebound move for SeaWorld, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction PR-wise. If SeaWorld can shift the public’s perception away from viewing its parks as sea circuses and toward its conservation efforts, it could prove a company-saving move.