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I took the opportunity to watch the movie Blackfish right before it aired on CNN. I had been meaning to see it ever since it premiered at Sundance, since I happen to be an odd combination of a movie enthusiast, theme park geek, and corporate activist. The movie piqued my interest because A) It’s a documentary, B) about a safety incident C) at a theme park C) run by a corporation. I was expecting an animal activist propaganda piece about how whales (and dolphins as well) are incredibly intelligent creatures, and therefore shouldn’t keep them in captivity and set them free & let their fins flow in the water as they swim through the glen. I got what I expected sure, but in a very tactful & deft way – the filmmaker managed to find multiple former SeaWorld trainers to criticize their former company (of course the expectation of getting current SeaWorld employees to blow the whistle on their employer is absurd). I was naturally immediately skeptical about the level of interaction these interviewed trainers had with Tilikum, slash editing techniques used in the film, but thought no further on it afterwards.  Overall I found the activism aspect of the film neither eye-opening nor interesting.

But there was more to the film than the activism, and that’s what interested me. The movie delves into the history of 20th century whaling, as well as the investigation into the incident with video of witnesses on the stand. I wasn’t aware of SeaWorld’s role in capturing whales in Penn Cove, Puget Sound, and Budd Inlet, nor that they actually had a government permit to do so. Like many major corporations in the 60’s & 70’s, the ends always justified the means, and the ends were always Profit. It was before Earth Day was globally recognized, before “Nader’s Raiders” & “Unsafe at Any Speed” became popular, before PETA even existed to shift the Overton window on animal cruelty. It was also before SeaWorld was sold to three successive companies, from Books to Beer to Banksters.

No, it's okay, we've got a permit for this! That makes it totally ethical.
And the Banksters (called the Blackstone Group, winner of the “Most likely name to be mistaken for a Bond Villain Organization” award) aren’t any more likely to take responsibility than their predecessors. In September SeaWorld announced that it would continue to screw its employees by cutting their part-time employees from 32 to 28 hours / week, to avoid their responsibilities under the ACA. Additionally, in David Kirby’s book “Death at Sea World” he notes that the Labor Department cited SeaWorld for discriminating against black & Hispanic job applications. SeaWorld has even resorted to Freeping an online CNN poll to try to shift their image.

Even regarding the OSHA ruling, A.K.A. the government saying that they did something illegal enough to get fined, SeaWorld’s Banksters are unrepentant, appealing the fine for killing an employee from a supposedly budget-breaking $75,000 to $12,000, and still appealing that pittance. This should be outrageous to everyone, as should the way SeaWorld tried covering up throwing the trainers under the bus, first with the “slip & fall” defense, then the “ponytail theory.” They still insist to new team members at training that the trainer made a mistake, and the whale got confused.

Clearly a klutz.
This is not to say that the film is perfect, dare I even say great. I’m not surprised that it got passed over by the Academy, considering the claims of cinematographic malpractice, justifiably raised by multiple trainers interviewed for the film, as well as bloggers. Clearly the filmmaker had an agenda when making Blackfish, as did CNN in their typical sloppy rush to capitalize from it.
I'll take "Movies that we should've vetted more" Alex.
I actually had to rewind the part where Tilikum was captured, because it came right after Sea World’s involvement in whaling. And that’s where we have a problem – If you have to rewatch a segment because the storylines are blending together, you’re going to have some misconceptions. Like George Bush using “Al Qaida” and “Iraq” in consecutive sentences, it cleverly projects to the viewer a connection between the two, whether there actually is one or not. They aren’t necessarily lying to you saying that Sea World was responsible for kidnapping Tilikum, but they script it so that’s what you come away with.

The comment that the “ends do not justify the means” projected at the filmmaker for their shadow games can easily be turned back towards SeaWorld, who has failed its trainers in keeping a safe workplace. Just because Seaworld does good work saving & caring for aquatic creatures around the US NOW does not justify the way they acted 40 years ago, nor how they treat their human employees today. Disney just spent the past year adding safety railing on its major attractions less than six months after their incident (and immediately after the citation), yet SeaWorld has yet to add new safety mechanisms to its whale tank, more than 3 years later. Disney’s Monorail procedures have changed more than 20 times since the 2009 death, yet SeaWorld complains that their trainers still can’t get in the water with the whales. Sure, NOW they’re talking about Killer Whale Treadmills and emergency lift floors, but even during its current 3 month refurbishment no safety changes are expected.

On the other side, the criticism of SeaWorld portrayed in the film that the company is emotionally manipulative by portraying whales as a “cuddly toy” can likewise be turned around on the film itself, emotionally manipulating the audience through anthromorphizing & victimizing (however accurately) the whales. There is also some minor hypocrisy in activists choice to target Seaworld when on a good day they don’t do nearly the business that Disney’s Animal Kingdom does on a bad day, and Barnum & Bailey’s circus, though a moving target, has a far worse animal record.
I once read an Ursula Le Guin short story called “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” about a Utopian society whose only cost for their happiness is that one little boy has to be locked up in a basement, abused and in misery. Blackfish reminds me of this story – For all the good that Seaworld does, rescuing & caring for sea creatures everywhere, the cost is that a small number of whales & dolphins must be kept in captivity. And most of those, realize, are not fit to be released – they’re institutionalized or not well enough to survive on their own. Is the good that SeaWorld does worth any price? Or where is the line drawn where the bad things they do outweigh the good that they do?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I would like to mediate a “cease fire” on the vitriol and the rhetoric on both sides of the debate. These are my terms:

THEME PARK BLOGGERS SHOULD REALIZE: The time to “Believe” is gone. Maybe the days of trainers swimming around with sea mammals, though exciting & inspiring at the time, are behind us, and there are newer & better ways of inspiring the next generation of Oceaneers. Like the rusty ol’ Skyway & paper fastpasses, the times they are a changin’ and we should move on. One Ocean isn’t necessarily inferior to Believe or the other Shamu shows, so maybe “close contact” isn’t as essential as you or SeaWorld argue it is. Even the Blackfish detractors can agree that the entertainment acts that they put the whales through aren’t helping. Bridgette notes if she were in charge, “I would end animals for entertainment purposes, and stop the breeding program.” Will Tilikum (or another whale) attack again? Who can tell, but the trainers definitely deserve a safer environment to work in, just in case.

So Lonely...
Also, you need to accept that SeaWorld is not a perfect entity, lies to its employees & guests, and has a large room for change. There’s still a lot of truth in Blackfish outside of its biases & misleads. And stuffing your Shamu dolls in your ears & pretending that SeaWorld can do no wrong isn’t helping.  The “armchair activism,” at was successful in getting bands to be more conscientious on where they do their shows. It’s not a publicity stunt by the bands, it’s not a conspiracy – it’s a genuine social uprising, and bad timing for the bands. It’s ultimately a good thing, getting politically active. I just wish the activists did get out of their armchairs and picked up a picket.  Never fear – you can still catch BNL at Universal’s whale-controversy-free Mardi Gras!  
Not an armchair in sight...
ACTIVISTS SHOULD REALIZE: Tilikum will never be free (nor should he). I’m not an animal expert, so I will refrain from trying to psychoanalyze marine mammals. But as Bridgette notes, reintroduction hasn’t been successful in the past. The fact that we’re having a conversation at all says that you’ve won a battle here, maybe just take it at that. The BBB Bands boycott has done its work. I think the path forward lies in getting SeaWorld to phase out the entertainment shows instead of trying to Free Willy/Shamu/Tilikum, or trying to prove in court that whales are people, just like Corporations are. But also tone down on the “SeaWorld kills whales” & “Just watch Blackfish” rabid impulse reactions. As liberals we should be better than emotional, logic-free, ad-hominum attacks, and we should be able to articulate our concerns better than telling people (who either have and ignore the message, or don’t care enough to) to watch a movie.
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Comment Preferences

  •  It's easy to treat animals badly; this country (0+ / 0-)

    Because it was founded upon the ownership of humans.

    FUCK Seaworld. I'm not going back & I hope they go bankrupt.

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 03:33:47 PM PST

  •  200 Dolphins Await Slaughter In Japan's Taiji Cove (5+ / 0-)

    Via /.

    "CNN reports that more than 200 bottlenose dolphins remain penned in a cove by Japanese fishermen, many of them stressed and bloodied from their attempts to escape before fishermen start to slaughter them for meat. Until now, the fishermen have focused on selecting dolphins to be sold into captivity at marine parks and aquariums in Japan and overseas as twenty-five dolphins, including a rare albino calf, were taken on Saturday 'to a lifetime of imprisonment,' and another 12 on Sunday. 'Many of the 200+ Bottlenose dolphins who are in still the cove are visibly bloody & injured from their attempts to escape the killers,' one update says. Although the hunting of dolphins is widely condemned in the west, Japanese defend the practice as a local custom — and say it is no different to the slaughter of other animals for meat. The Wakayama Prefecture, where Taiji is located condemns the criticism as biased and unfair to the fishermen. 'Taiji dolphin fishermen are just conducting a legal fishing activity in their traditional way in full accordance with regulations and rules under the supervision of both the national and the prefectural governments. Therefore, we believe there are no reasons to criticize the Taiji dolphin fishery.' Meanwhile the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society describes how about 40 to 60 local fishermen work with nets to divide up the pod, whose initial numbers were estimated by the group at more than 250. 'They tighten up the nets to bring each sub-group together then the skiffs push them toward the tarps. Under the tarps in the shallows is where the trainers work with the killers to select the "prettiest" dolphins which will sell and make the best pay day for the hunters,' the group says. The fishermen will 'kill the "undesirable" dolphins (those with nicks and scars) under the tarps to hide from our cameras when that time comes.'"
  •  Great title! (0+ / 0-)

    I see what you did there.

  •  BTW I think if you watch the movie (4+ / 0-)

    that there is NO DOUBT that Sea World didn't have anything to do with the capture of Tilikum.  

    It was very clear that it was some aquarium in Canada that captured him and after some problems sold him to Sea World.  

    And this

    I just wish the activists did get out of their armchairs and picked up a picket.  

    is just plain condescending and fucking ignorant.  Many of the activists DO picket.  They picket Marineland in Canada, Seaworld in Orlando and San Diego, and all over the world.  There is an international Empty The Tanks campaign for May 24 and oh many of those same activists also protest Ringling Brothers.  

    As liberals we should be better than emotional, logic-free, ad-hominum attacks, and we should be able to articulate our concerns better than telling people (who either have and ignore the message, or don’t care enough to) to watch a movie.
    But hey what's a few ad hominem attacks against animal rights activists right?  after all we're just a bunch of rabid, emotional, logic free, armchair activists

    This is your world These are your people You can live for yourself today Or help build tomorrow for everyone -8.75, -8.00

    by DisNoir36 on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 04:33:00 PM PST

    •  Perhaps I could've been more articulate (0+ / 0-)

      in saying that I wish THESE activists that can sign a petition to get bands to boycott SeaWorld would be the types that would ALSO stand in front of SeaWorld with signs, or take their activism to the next level. I fear that some people think that signing petitions is enough to effect change, and it's not enough.

      I'm not painting ALL activists as armchair & logic-free. I'm pointing out that these sort of strategies are - I LIKE when we get out & protest. I see the use of hacktivism / internet organization, but I like seeing us take it to the next level BETTER.

      See the first 3 comments - they didn't help to progress the dialogue. a2nite is not being helpful, aeou posts a kinda-not-relevant-to-the-discussion link about dolphins in Japan which may or may not have anything to do with SeaWorld, and DisNoir36 is likely not helpful.

      •  edit (0+ / 0-)

        I mean the first comment by you, DisNoir was not helpful. This one was more articulate, and can spark a conversation :)

      •  Your diary is not helpful (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        aoeu, terrybuck

        You obviously don't know much about the topic or activists.  The activists are the ones who are out front of Sea World protesting.  Petitions are part of the movement and a powerful tool in the battle to get those who don't have the time or ability to dedicate themselves to a cause involved.  Raising public awareness is the ultimate goal.  Another part of the movement is to hit them where it hurts which is financially.  Negative publicity hurts.  Bands boycotting the parks hurts as it decreases revenue.  It would be nice if direct action was possible but there are laws and stuff that prohibit  much of it.  

        Oh and if you don't get the link between Taiji Japan and Sea World then you really don't have a fucking clue what you're talking about.  The dolphin slaughter in Taiji is part of the process, the beginning so to speak as they're the ones who capture the dolphins which are sold around the world to places like Sea World for several hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The ones  not captured and sold off are killed and sold as meat to the locals.  One albino which was captured a few days ago can sell for more than half a million.  By raising awareness of the capture and slaughter of the dolphins the hope is that these barbaric practices will end.  If they end then places like Sea World won't be able to acquire dolphins and killer whales for their shows without gaining negative publicity.  

        Sea World (and other parks) does do lot of good but frankly they also take part in alot of bad.   Marine wildlife should not be confined in a freaking tank where they get to swim in circles for the rest of their stunted lives.  It's one thing to rescue animals and provide them with a safe place to live.  It's another to capture wildlife and imprison them.  Whether it's California Sea Lions from Oregon who were captured for the crime of eating salmon in the Columbia River who are now forced to live the rest of their lives in a fish bowl in Coney Island, NY or wild dolphins captured in Taiji Japan or killer whales captured in the Pacific northwest.  

        This is your world These are your people You can live for yourself today Or help build tomorrow for everyone -8.75, -8.00

        by DisNoir36 on Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 09:24:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thank you. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
        •  You're making my point for me (0+ / 0-)

          Because my diary was focused on Blackfish, the movie regarding the tragic death of a trainer, not attacking the movement at large. It's like Fahrenheit 911 in a lot of ways - a movie full of truths than needed to be told, and the message clouded by biases. I find what's happening with the dolphins in Japan as tragic, and yes the fact that SeaWorld doesn't say anything about it speaks volumes, but it's not relevant to my point here.

          I understand your passion, but realize that there are people out there that are equally passionate about SeaWorld based on the positives that they do, and instead of attacking the corporation as a whole, you should be chipping away at the edges instead. It's like a brick wall. You're not going to take down SeaWorld by attacking SeaWorld, but instead by pointing out that SeaWorld is tacit in dolphin slaughter, like I said the HR/safety failures that they are responsible for, their participation in the 70's whaling captures. You have to strategically target specific things. Otherwise the person you're arguing with just shuts down.

          My question is, is there a middle ground? How big of a tank is large enough for dolphins/whales? Is there a point where marine mammals are institutionalized and can't be set free? How many incarcerated mammals are too many? Can SeaWorld still inspire without their shows, or does it become boring?

          You're right, I am regrettably undereducated about marine biology/psychology. I do understand activism quite well though. And "SeaWorld Sucks" doesn't win hearts & minds nearly as much as facts do. And more people need to do more than just sign a petition to be active just like you or I am.

          But don't think that a movie or a boycott affects revenue nearly as much as you think (or as much as it should)

          •  I'd like to disagree on a few points... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            First, the revenue point... the jury will be out for quite awhile on how the Blackfish movie affects revenue. SW revenue is down (their stock is tanking since it went public last year) even though they report attendance is up. That means they are discounting heavily to get folks through the door, which is inherently a bad thing for them. If this movie has the effect that many believe it will in changing the hearts and minds of many (I have been in a screening with teenagers and it sure affected them!), the tide may be turning... perhaps the next generation will decide not to support a place that keeps captive orcas or dolphins. I teach high school biology -- and I see a different awareness in kids these days... the internet has changed the game, for sure.

            Second, to the killer whale capture point (from the diary, not the comment above)... while SW didn't specifically capture Tillikum, they have been involved in captures long after they admitted to doing so. Research "killer whale laundering" -- the practice by SW of taking whales that were captured and "owned" by individuals or other facilities that in fact went right from the capture location to SW facilities on permanent "breeding loans". Their hands aren't nearly as clean as they want you to believe. To that point, the current crop of captive-born killer whales are very closely bred -- Tillikum has fathered a good chunk of them. And he's near the end of his expected lifespan, and there are precious few other adult males in captivity (they tend to die alot). The zoo and aquarium industry has set forth standards about breeding closely related animals, and there is no way to keep this captive population sustainable without adding the occasional new genes.

            Third point... you mention the "good" that SW does -- rescue, rehab, etc. Their rescue operation is a complete nonsequiter, and a point that SW keeps using to cloud the issue. The two things have nothing to do with each other. SW could continue their rescue and rehab work just fine without killer whales (perhaps better because they'd have more space to house rescue animals!). Ever since Blackfish came out, this is the point that SW goes back to, in order to change the subject. Stop falling for it.

    •  "some problems" is a bit of an understatement. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      swan217, DisNoir36

      To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

      by UntimelyRippd on Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 07:13:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Pretty sure that connecting with people (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bogieshadow, Meteor Blades, swan217

    on an emotional level is absolutely critical for getting a message across (of any kind, really); so I'm not sure why you're dissing the idea so much (maybe it was done clumsily in this movie, but that means that the approach should be fixed, rather than abandoned).

    •  Absolutely Agree (0+ / 0-)

      I'm just posting both sides of the argument, not necessarily agreeing with everything on both sides. My problem is I read dailykos where we're extremely critical of Seaworld, and also attractions blogs, where they're extremely critical of Blackfish.

      I'd just like to live in a world where Libs can agree Blackfish has a few flaws, and Attractions can agree that SeaWorld also has a few flaws.

  •  Thought you all might be interested... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in a new article posted by the Blackfish folks. It's also worth noting that the Blackfish and Cove folks have challenged SeaWorld to debate this issue of cetaceans in captivity. So far, crickets.

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