SeaWorld Suffers Killer Whale Woes

When you hear SeaWorld, you think of killer whales — for better or worse.

As of Tuesday Nov 10, SeaWorld Entertainment has cancelled its famous orca shows.

Since its opening in the 1960s, SeaWorld Entertainment centered its brand associations with its main attraction — theatrical orca shows. But after trainer Dawn Brancheau was drowned by the 12,000-pound orca she trained and cared for, SeaWorld took a damaging hit.

The release of the documentary “Blackfish” in 2013 dragged SeaWorld’s name further through the mud and triggered declining memberships and negative brand association.

SeaWorld released this video to combat the criticism of “Blackfish.”

It’s clear that the numbers prompted SeaWorld to finally cancel the contentious orca shows. SeaWorld lost $25.4 million in the last quarter of 2014, according to The Dodo. Stock fell 50 percent in 2014 following “Blackfish.”

SeaWorld released this statement: “Going forward, park employees—now called ambassadors—will be paid to spend time engaging with guests as part of the park’s push to connect with the community and build conversation into its brand….engagement days will be spent supporting rescues, educations and preservation.”

I think that focusing on education and promoting awareness of endangered species and what we can do to keep them healthy is the right stance for SeaWorld. However, I do think that their response time was much too slow. The trainer died in 2010, “Blackfish” was released in 2013, and only now is SeaWorld taking notable action.

What do you think of SeaWorld’s PR response?

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15 Responses to SeaWorld Suffers Killer Whale Woes

  1. Taylor Nelson says:

    I agree that SeaWorld took far too long in taking the appropriate action in response to the death and the documentary. However, I also think that they were stuck between a rock and a hard place–do they do the ethical thing, or keep their biggest money maker? As awful as it sounds, the orca show was one of their biggest attractions, and as they were already taking huge financial hits as a result of the controversies, getting rid of it risked bankrupting them permanently.

    I am so glad to see that SeaWorld is finally canceling the show, though. I also agree that pushing for education and awareness of endangered species is a good move, and promotes their corporate responsibility. I only wish that they had been more aware of that corporate responsibility early on. It would have saved them, and their animal-loving fans, significant heartache.

  2. Elissa Harrison says:

    I agree SeaWorld’s PR response was way to slow. I think if they were more proactive from the start their wouldn’t be so much negative views surrounding the brand. Though I agree they needed to cancel their show I am curious to see how not having their iconic show will effect their sales. Will this help their sales because people are recognizing they’re are being responsible and helping the animals out or do you think that it will just hurt ticket sales? I think for awhile people will be happy and supportive the show is finally canceled but I think people will be looking for different ways to be entertained. I know the big shoes are guests favorite part so I am curious how they will counter act. If I was the PR practitioner I would have responded right away responding on how we are helping the whales and that are goal is to protect and help the animals in captivity rather then use them for show and profit. I would have canceled the show awhile ago and rather allow people to watch the basic trainings or health checks the animals go through. I think there is great power in seeing animals in their natural habitat as much as they can be with being in a tank.

  3. Lauren Thompson says:

    I think SeaWorld’s response is too little, too late. The shows are only ending in the San Diego park, which is interesting considering that the orca that was followed for the Blackfish documentary lives in SeaWorld Orlando. The delayed reaction is only taking place in one of three parks, which makes me think this is strictly a reactive response from SeaWorld. If there were a genuine change in company values, it would translate across all park locations. Overall, this move does not feel genuine to me as a consumer and does not improve my perception of the brand whatsoever.

  4. Courtney Bannon says:

    I think it’s too little, too late. They are not canceling orca shows at all of their parks, just at their San Diego location. After the Blackfish movie, SeaWorld really fought back to maintain their position. That backfired in my opinion. Now, this is a late attempt to stop their bottom line from dropping further, even though the damage to the brand has been done. The best response would have been to acknowledge the public’s concern and partner with opposing organizations to make the situation better for the whales, and to put the public’s mind at ease.

  5. Natalie Crandall says:

    I believe SeaWorld’s response to both the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau and the release of “Blackfish” were extremely slow and poorly executed. After the death of Dawn Brancheau, SeaWorld President Dan Brown released this statement, “It is with great sadness that I report that one of our most experienced animal trainers drowned in an incident with one of our killer whales this afternoon. We’ve initiated an investigation to determine, to the extent possible, what occurred” (2010). The results of that investigation never seemed to come to light until the release of Blackfish in 2013, which clearly showed the harm of holding orcas in captivity. Following the release of Blackfish, SeaWorld released a statement in response, “To promote its bias that killer whales should not be maintained in a zoological setting, the film (Blackfish) paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld.”

    Although the SeaWorld PR team has drafted incredibly well-worded statements following both events, their actions have failed to reassure their audience and stockholders of SeaWorld’s “heroic” efforts to save and rehabilitate sea life. Canceling the Orca show 5 years after Dawn Brancheau I believe, was incredibly too late to redeem SeaWorld’s reputation. Although SeaWorld is proposing a $100 million expansion of their killer whale tanks to promote Orca’s “natural habitat” it will take years and an entirely new brand campaign to regain audience loyalty once again.

  6. Aubrey Badger says:

    As a San Diego native and SeaWorld lover, I am deeply saddened by the park’s decision to end all orca shows. Not only is the SeaWorld brand a staple and economic driver of the San Diego region, it’s a beloved memory for children like myself. While I understand the controversy surrounding the ethics of orca shows, in my opinion, it’s no different than zoos or other recreational parks where animals are kept captive. The difference with SeaWorld, however, is that their main focus has always been on educating children and the public about sea life, and promoting their rescue and research efforts. Their “lag” in PR response isn’t a lag in my opinion, why is this controversy only arising now, if they’ve been around since the 1960s? I’m sure the trainer who was killed is not the only trainer to ever be killed when dealing with animals. Additionally, in regards to Blackfish, many of these orcas were rescued and rehabilitated, and have lived in captivity for many years. If they were released, would they really survive in the wild, after being cared for personally for so long? In my opinion, this PR response is disheartening and feels like a last-ditch effort, because of the unwarranted backlash that SeaWorld has received as of late.

  7. Juliet Moo says:

    SeaWorld did take their time in responding to the trainer’s death and the documentary, but I don’t think it’s a bad move. That being said, the orca shows have been the theme park’s main attraction since its opening in 1964, and terminating the shows definitely require a great deal of planning. SeaWorld had to consider how it will affect stakeholders – including the company itself, SeaWorld visitors, shareholders, and even the orcas’ well-being.
    Stating that the termination is an effort to promote awareness of endangered species puts SeaWorld in a good position. Although people might still be disappointed about losing the orca shows, they are more inclined to accept it.
    Shareholders and investors might not be too pleased with the declining revenue, but it is almost impossible to please every party involved, and SeaWorld decided to focus on the safety and well being of the orcas, which is a good effort in getting the public acceptance and approval.

  8. Megan Brown says:

    I have read several pieces that discuss the SeaWorld shift to more natural and educational animal shows as opposed to ones focusing on theatrics, as you put it. I, too, believe that the organization took far too much time to address public concerns regarding the treatment of their captive orcas and other marine mammals. Also I find it interesting they are claiming the park employees are NOW called ambassadors as they have been labeled this in the “Blackfish” movie itself. In addition, SeaWorld actually called their animals ambassadors for those living in the wild as well. Personally, I equate SeaWorld to a circus as both force their animals to perform unnatural tricks while mistreating and/or not properly caring for them outside of the public eye. Their PR response was weak and late to the game, as far as how long it took for real change to be enacted into park practices.

  9. Johana Soto says:

    I think you are right that SeaWorld took too long to take some kind of action and release information. I do think they should have released “Blackfish” sooner and more of their audience would have understood the situation from their perspective better. I do think that SeaWorld focusing on education and promoting awareness is definitely a good idea because it keeps people connected and learning.

  10. Jasmine Safaie says:

    I think SeaWorld’s response is a cheap attempt to keep from having to close its doors. Although they won’t have the shows, the orcas are still going to be captured and kept in captivity, which is the main concern surrounding SeaWorld’s unethical treatment of the animals. I am all but impressed with their response. The fact that it was so prolonged just goes to show that they don’t actually care about the education, but they only care about their business.

  11. Brittani Gomez says:

    I also agree that SeaWorld took far too long to respond to this issue. We just discussed programming and procedures, and clearly SeaWorld had neither in place to handle a situation like this. They were not ready to handle what came to them when a disaster struck and for that their PR lacked tremendously. Since this incident happened so long ago many people may have forgotten the issue or simply have no interest in supporting SeaWorld any further since they took so long to respond. If I was working for SeaWorld I would have strongly advised to respond immediately due to the severity of the issue as well as the reputation of SeaWorld.

  12. Kimberly Linn says:

    I definitely feel Sea Worlds reaction is a case of being too little too late. It has been about two years since the intensely critical Blackfish documentary, and the lack of response from Sea World during or after the documentary only further incriminate the amusement park. Although I can understand why Sea World would not participate in the documentary, but the lack of immediate response after the premiere is puzzling. At the very least, I would have expected a solid statement from Sea World correcting the inaccuracies of the documentary and, maybe, a basic plan for the roll out of this informative advertising campaign. Two years is too long to wait for a response.

  13. Teresa Joseph says:

    You’re right, this is something SeaWorld should have done a long time ago. Right when “Blackfish” was released, they should have taken a stance in helping endangered species. Instead, it seems like they ignored the matter so it’d get worse and eventually (as it did) hurt their revenue. It was only then did they realize that they needed to do something. Honestly, I think their image is still seriously damaged. Although they’ve received a lot of positive responses about finally canceling the orca shows, I think more steps need to be taken in order to get people to trust and like SeaWorld again.

  14. Alla Nadezhkina says:

    First of all, I would like to express my personal point of view, that this story looks like well-planned information attack against SeaWorld to weaken or even destroy it. Ultimately the initiators of the attack reached their goal – super-profitable shows with killer whales was closed and SeaWorld has lost its position in the entertainment market.
    There are many entertaining show in the world in which the participants exposed to their lives and health at serious risk – people knowingly take a risk as it is part of their job. For example, few people think about how many injuries and deaths happen to circus performers. And no one carries out information campaigns against this type of human activity.
    As for my assessment of PR service SeaWorld statement I believe it can not be seen as a late response to the events in 2010 and 2013, as well as the concept of rebirth of show with killer whales but at a new level. To do this SeaWorld must carry out a large-scale rebranding. In addition it is necessary to improve the system of measures aimed at working with park visitors, an increase of security during the show, preservation of populations of this species and other actions aimed at increasing customer loyalty and improve the company’s image in the public eye.
    I’m sure that if SeaWorld will make right conclusions killer whale show must go on.

  15. Mary Kenney says:

    I think that SeaWorld’s PR response was much needed. SeaWorld has really been looking bad since the trainer died and “Blackfish.” I went to SeaWorld when I was little but since never really had strong feelings about it but I was so sad after watching “Blackfish” that I never wanted to go back. I think SeaWorld made the right decision to end the orca shows. I am disappointed it took so long though. I also think it was really smart to start focusing on endangered species awareness. I think that the combination of ending the orca showing and focusing on education at SeaWorld will make a difference in their image. It may not be immediate but I think over time SeaWorld will be able to rebuild their brand.

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