SeaWorld Leaps Into Whale of Crisis Management Pool

On March 17, SeaWorld announced it will end the orca whale breeding program.

This announcement comes after years of increasing scrutiny and negative press towards the park and its shows, particularly following the release of the controversial documentary “Blackfish.”

The company announced the news via social media with a catchy video that was clearly aimed at attracting an audience and ensuring that it sees this decision as positive rather than a result of negative press.

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SeaWorld is trying to position this move as part of its efforts to be “contributing to the evolving understanding of the world’s largest marine mammals.”

So far, the response to the news has been overwhelmingly positive, though many activists insist there is much more they can do and small moves are not necessarily enough to wipe away the legacy of years of complaints about their practices.

It seems that SeaWorld is suddenly jumping right into the pool of crisis management … years after the crisis actually began. According to Wilson and Ogden, crisis management is defined as “the process of anticipating and mediating problems that could affect an organization’s environment and profitability.”

SeaWorld’s initial plan for managing this crisis appeared to be denouncing the documentary as propaganda . They claimed that their practices were not harmful and they never tried to cover up the truth about the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. However, this tepid response hardly helped. Financially, the park saw stock prices, revenue and attendance drop.

Now, they appear to be taking a more apologetic tone as they “fix” their practices. It leads one to believe that they never did anticipate this crisis. They did not have a clear plan for managing such accusations or position messaging to remedy the damage done to their reputation.

Do you think that SeaWorld has ended the orca program at the right time? Why? If you were in charge of handling their response to the “Blackfish” controversy, how would you have changed the timeline? And, most importantly, do you think that it is enough?

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