Be careful what you wish for, SeaWorld opponents

November 16, 2011, 3:32 PM · For animal "rights" activists attacking SeaWorld, I have a message:

Be careful what you wish for, in case you one day get it.

SeaWorld is back in court this week, facing charges from OSHA resulting from the death of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau in Orlando in 2010. Yesterday, two trainers from SeaWorld San Diego took the stand to testify about SeaWorld's procedures. One of the trainers, Ken Peters, will be familiar to Theme Park Insider readers who remember when he showed me around SeaWorld's training facilities in 2008.

Robert Niles, Ken Peters and Corky the Orca at SeaWorld San Diego
Me, with Ken Peters and Corky at SeaWorld San Diego in 2008.

I'm not nearly qualified to pass judgment on what's happening in the Orlando courtroom, but I think it is worth noting that the number of trainers killed by orcas at SeaWorld is equal to the number of drivers killed by monorails at Walt Disney World. (One at each, by my count of incidents since I started this site in 1999.) No one has suggested that Disney remove its monorails, but Disney has had to make several changes in monorail operation to help ensure that such an incident does not happen again. I hope that the process now ongoing in Orlando also results in something that protects SeaWorld's trainers, as well as its animals and SeaWorld's efforts to engage and educate its audience.

That third element is one that's ignored by the animal rights activists who have seized upon this case in their ongoing public relations battle against SeaWorld.

Anyone who truly cares about protecting animals cares about conserving and protecting their natural habitats. Human impact upon the environment is global. For many species, protecting natural habitat requires human beings to make changes in the ways we travel, live and do business.

I believe that most peoples' willingness to protect - and advocate for the protection of - a species' native habitat is proportional to the direct contact that person has had with that species. Sorry, news stories and TV specials don't cut it. Just look at the depressingly large number of people who don't immunize their children, or who deny that global warming is happening, or who believe that human beings were created in their current form a few thousand years ago. Too many Americans choose to remain blissfully ignorant of science, even zoology. If you want to motivate people to act to protect orcas, you've got to have a killer whale splash them in the face.

It's impossible to visit a SeaWorld show and not be hit with a message about conservation. But it's the direct contact with the animals - whether that be through sight, touch or splash - that motivates more people to listen to, and - for a few of them, perhaps - act upon those messages.

In an ideal world, we wouldn't need zoos and animal parks such as SeaWorld, because people would be able to travel the world easily, inexpensively and with no environmental impact, experiencing animals in their native habitats. But that's not the world we live in. Until people can apparate to Puget Sound or Antarctica to see oracs and penguins, we need places like SeaWorld. We need places where people can see live animals from other parts of the world and not only learn about protecting global wildlife habitats - but become motivated to do it.

That's what we will lose if the animal rights activists get their way and force SeaWorld to abandon its animals, starting with the orcas. Personally, I don't think PETA's leadership gives a damn about animal survival. They're concerned only with changing human behavior. I suspect that PETA's leadership wouldn't care about catastrophic loss of habitat and widespread species extinction, so long as every human being was a vegan and zoos were outlawed.

Fortunately, people in the zoological fields do care about protecting habitat and preventing extinctions. And they recognize the importance of educating and motivating the public. I don't want to live in a world where even more people ignore and deny the need to take better care of our environment because they've never seen a wild animal, even in a zoo or SeaWorld park.

Replies (24)

November 16, 2011 at 3:43 PM · Great post as always!

I agree... Zoos and Parks like Sea World prevent the whole "Out of sight, out of mind" problem for animal conservation.

PETA is definitely not there to protect animals. They kill animals themselves. If they would have it their way, no animal would be a pet or in a zoo. Heck, they even said to boycott a few videogames... Battlefield 3 for killing a rat... yet you're killing humans in the videogame. Super Mario wearing a "Tanooki" suit. Why? because they said they don't want to promote wearing fur... yet they don't realize that a Tanooki is not only a real animal in Japan, but a mythical shape shifting creature that is found around businesses in the form of a ceramic statue similar to the Western Garden Gnome.

November 16, 2011 at 4:37 PM · I agree with everything you said in this article. Well done Robert, well done. Also,screw PETA! This whole Mario Kills Tanooki thing is annoying the crap out of me!
November 16, 2011 at 4:54 PM · Brilliant Robert! Well done!
November 16, 2011 at 5:00 PM · You painted too big a brush with your allegations. I have a science and engineering background and I don't trust global warming science and I have honest doubts about how long humans were on the earth. This doubt is in fact based on how science actually works, which is skepticism and that science is constantly changing. I do believe in vaccines, but I feel the vaccination schedule is much too agressive for young children. Many parents have their doubts and I'm not one to dispute their concerns, but it was reported that many parents who don't allow vaccines are largely coming from the left.

PETA has a clear agenda that aligns with the left. They are in sync with those that believe in global warming and evolution. You can say their actions are consistent with their beliefs. That you disagree is rather convenient, but if you do believe in global warming, stopping commerce with animals is entirely consistent. Once the theme park business ceases, animals are protected (according to them) and precious fossil fuels are conserved with no one visiting. Carbon gasses are not produced. An apparent WIN WIN for the leftists.

Finally, I don't believe we need these zoos and animal habitats. They are nice to have, but not essential. Nonetheless, most of these animals are rescued and can no longer be returned into the wild. I support the theme parks that take care of them.

November 16, 2011 at 5:01 PM · I think that even if Sea World were no longer able to have the Shamu show on display at its parks that there would be plenty of other great things to see there. They should push their dolphin shows to the forefront of their promotions and make a bigger production and spectacle out of them. Think about all the dolphin movies that have come out (Dolphin Tale, Flipper, etc.) Milk the dolphin cuteness/love for all its worth, Sea World! Maybe they should incorporate some licenses that would fit in well with their park like Happy Feet and Flipper.

Clearly they know it might not always be about Shamu, hence the increased number of rides/attractions and holiday offerings. Now get on improving/updating Wild Arctic's movie ride!

In light of recent incidents, I think it's hard for a lot of people to imagine there being a special "bond" between humans and whales like Believe depicted. So they should sell us on the bond between people and dolphins/penguins more.

November 16, 2011 at 5:42 PM · Anon Mouse, Thank you for your comment, especially what you said in your first paragraph. There are a lot of scientists who are sceptical about those things.
November 16, 2011 at 5:50 PM · Wow. Way to go Robert! I never thought I'd hear YOU say that. THANK YOU. I've noticed a pretty common pattern of protesters who protest for their own ego gratification and less for the cause of making a positive difference. PETA will do more to harm the cause of protecting animals than save them.
November 16, 2011 at 5:52 PM · I am mostly in agreement with your epistle, however, I, like Anon Mouse, am a bit confused about what immunization, global warming, or creation/evolution have to do with SeaWorld's legal battles. Imho, you took an unnecessary jab at the beliefs and opinions of others, however, I do respect that you are willing to take a stand. I guess it is a writer's job to excite and even incite people, which, in the grand scheme of things, is good business for TPI!
November 16, 2011 at 6:16 PM · There are two main ways to make a case for something - logic (flowing from science) and emotion. I'm saying that logical, scientific arguments don't sway a large portion of society anymore, thanks to a continuing campaign to convince Americans than actual knowledge is elitist. (For further examples, I refer you to the 2012 GOP presidential campaign.)

SeaWorld, and zoos to an extent, make an emotional argument for conservation and wildlife protection. Animal advocates work in other media, sure, but seeing the animals in person packs the biggest emotional punch.

Take that off the table, though (and trust me, that is PETA's agenda), and you're left with just those logical, scientific arguments as to why far-off animal habitats need protection. Good luck getting Americans to agree with any of those. Our recent track record suggests to me that evidence and data don't convince nearly as many Americans as emotional appeals do.

(And by the way, vaccinations don't cause autism or mental retardation. Global warming is real. And humans evolved from lower primates. If those statements of fact conflict with your belief system, so be it. But your belief system doesn't make those facts any less real, and I don't really care what bogus rationalizations anyone cares to cite in opposition. I needed some real-world examples of people ignoring real science in favor of emotional beliefs to provide analogies for this piece, so that's why I went there with those examples.)

November 16, 2011 at 6:35 PM · Anon, in most countries the Green parties are not aligned neither with the left nor with the right. PETA is just another form of religious radicals like the US creationists and the Taliban. They are not taken seriously by any normal left, center, right or even green person.

Global warming is a fact, but if it is caused by man is an open issue. Certainly liberating billions of tons of carbon prisoned by nature hundreds of millions years ago does not help preventing it (if we want to prevent it).

Earths and human age, in the other hand IS NOT an open issue. Calculations may not be accurate, but we are talking respectively of billions and millions of years, not thousands.

But you are right in one thing when you say that all this environmental stuff is a leftist thing. While USA loose time with futile discussions about global warming, “”communist”” China invest heavily in clean technologies to dominate this future trillion dollar business.

November 16, 2011 at 6:53 PM · As someone who lives and travels internationally, global warming is an accepted fact everywhere in the world except the United States. Even in the oil producing countries of Arabia everyone knows global warming is a fact and they are investing in alternative energy technologies. Almost all US scientists say it is a fact. It is truly frightening and disheartening that so many Americans believe otherwise and vote based on disinformation.

Robert hits the nail on the head that Sea World makes real to millions of people the ecology of the oceans and its challenges in a way that TV screen and books cannot. It is a valuable experience and I'm very happy to see that Sea World's upcoming projects and attractions feature animals and not coasters and cheesy flat rides.

November 16, 2011 at 7:18 PM · It's called global climate change now. For a reason.

But the argument isn't over global warming. The argument is much broader, and encompasses much more than whether individual temperature sensors have shown increasing readings or not. Do actions of man have an appreciable effect on the climate? Are the current trends in climate a problem or not, and can we even answer that question? If they are, do we have ways to actually change things? And if we can, is the cost of that change more or less than the cost of doing nothing?

That the argument made is "global warming is real, so we have to take action" reveals that the argument is not based on science. It is a political and philosophical argument using a piece of scientific information as a hook. In the 70s, the piece of information was a new ice age.

But seriously, I don't visit theme park web sites to get into a scientific debate over this issue (not that there's a problem with it -- I would love to get the entire population of this country talking about those questions, because we need people to do more critical thinking, and less reacting to sound bites).

I also don't come here to argue politics, or different historical mythologies. Evolution encompasses a good deal of specific pieces of scientific information -- the origin of life is really an historical and anthropological question that involves speculation and guesswork, wrapped in competing scientific evidence. Scientific theory is about repeatable processes. Origins is like crime scene investigation -- you can apply science to make better guesses, but in the end it's just probabilities. If you see a pack of pencils on the table, and a dozen of them are spilled out on the table, and one is on the floor, you can apply your scientific knowledge of gravity and hypothesize that the pencil rolled off the table onto the floor. But if it turns out someone walked by and picked the pencil up off the table and laid it on the floor, your science wouldn't be wrong, just your guess). Anyway, I'm not arguing evolution here either.

The problem with trying to pick analogies to illustrate your point is that you have a viewpoint, and if others don't share that viewpoint, your analogies pick unnecessary fights rather than supporting your cause.

But Niles, you are certainly right that people are moved to help animals by what they see at Seaworld, and at the San Diego Zoo, at The Wilds in Ohio, and other places where people care for animals and also showcase them to the public (I am a huge fan of and donor to zoos). And I think you are probably right that this is an emotional response that is stronger than any scientific pitch you could make. I just think you can say that directly.

November 16, 2011 at 8:07 PM · The biggest problem is that these animals are simply too big to be kept properly in captivity. These creatures swim sometimes hundreds of miles in a day and dive to depths so deep that they cannot be replicated which is theorized to be the reason their dorsal fin flops over. Why not do a giant 3d show with recorded video of orcas complete with water effects?
November 16, 2011 at 8:14 PM · I only pointed out that most of the noted theories (heretofore called "facts") don't have anything to do with SeaWorld's legal battle, except to showcase one's political/religious bias, which is no more valid than the political/religious bias of those with an opposing or differing viewpoint.

Back to the discussion, I am not opposed to aquariums and zoos. In fact, I enjoy them quite a bit, but not for any high-minded, conservationist reasons, just because the animals, attractions, and shows are sometimes really cool!

Regardless, almost no one on this site goes to SeaWorld Orlando for the real animals. It is the fake ones, Kraken and Manta, that compel us to visit. You think anyone would pay upwards of $80 a head just to see a "fish"? It would do SeaWorld some good to invest in an assortment of highly detailed animatronics and add more killer rides instead of killer whales. That's the way to keep SeaWorld viable in the era of Potterland.

Wow, I think Jake Rivers just reared his head in my latest response... rides over attractions...what am I saying?? =)

November 16, 2011 at 9:03 PM · PETA sucks at jokes. They just announced this whole Mario Kills Tanooki was a joke.
November 16, 2011 at 9:03 PM · My love for animals and fish comes from my childhood memories of Sea World and the zoos. I grew up with a love of nature because of that experience. I think any kid exposed to Sea World will become a nature-conscious adult.
November 17, 2011 at 4:21 AM · Although I'm not completely comfortable with Zoos of any kind I have to recognise the good work they do in terms of conservation and awareness. They used to play a more prominent part in providing an opportunity for people to see animals in the flesh but , with World travel becoming increasingly available, that side is perhaps becoming less relevant. But not everyone has that option at their disposal and, as Robert pointed out, television cannot replace that real life viewing experience.
As for the global warming issue : I'm not wholly convinced of man's influence. Science has proven that we have cyclical weather changes and that the oceans take 700 years to respond to temperature change. That even at the height of man's industrial output in the 1950's we contributed a miniscule amount to the volume of greenhouse gases ( which we need by the way unless we want the suntan of all suntans ! ). Interestingly the very location that Mr Dole held up as an example of global warming has actually, as measured by sophisticated G.P.S, systems moved less than one millimeter in the last few years. Hardly evidence then. But it earned him a Nobel peace prize !
I do believe, however, that we have a political force employing thousands and worth billions of dollars, that has snowballed since the 1980's and is way too big and too powerful to stop. That's not to say that we don't have to be careful about our use of finite energy sources and that we need to be responsible for our Planet and all of the creatures living on it.
So as long as places like Seaworld can demonstrate that they consider animal welfare paramount whilst providing both education and entertainment then I support them and their use of trainers in the Shamu pool.
November 17, 2011 at 4:55 AM · Well done Robert.
November 17, 2011 at 5:42 AM · Robert I would like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Just as some other members here have mentioned, I also grew up with a love for marine life BECAUSE my parents took me to SeaWorld. These parks are easily my favorite places to visit, and It makes me so happy to read that many me,bets here agree with your brave comments. Thank you to everyonevwho posted words of support.

I call this article 'brave' because it is so much easier to take the 'hater' route and believe the propaganda and twisted words of PETA and other "environmental" activists. I applaud you for calling out organizations like PETA who only have political agendas, and waste their supporters money on silly PR stunts. PETA is neverheadlined in the news for actually saving animals or protecting habitats; and as someone already mentioned they just wasted a ton of money chastising Nintendo for Mario's raccoon outfit!

I also applaud you for rational critique of OSHA. There are many other professions that have dangerous aspects to their work, and it is apparent that OSHA is not treating SeaWorld equally compared with other similar incidents. Even within the zoological community, OSHA is comming down harder on SeaWorld then any other zoological park in history- all without merit. I hope SeaWorld wins this case, not only because I love and support the parks, but because OSHA should not legally be able to pick and choose to harshly fine and restrict one company or facility more than others.

November 17, 2011 at 9:48 AM · "That's what we will lose if the animal rights activists get their way and force SeaWorld to abandon its animals, starting with the orcas."

I don't see this from the article. Perhaps PETA has this as the end goal, but its a long way from here to there.

At minimum, Sea World would have to change its procedures to prevent trainers from being in the water with the animals. There's nothing about abandoning the animals or stopping the shows.

There shouldn't be any deaths. There always seem to be a few deaths here and there. I'm not convinced Sea World did much to improve the situation as the article states little was done.

As for the premise of the emotional argument versus the scientific argument, why are you conceding that Sea World lost the argument? PETA will win neither arguments. As for the scientific argument, I haven't heard any for which "logic" hasn't prevailed. I agree "far-off animal habitats need protection", but this does not preclude man-made habitats that rehabilitate and rescue animals, as well as educate the public on animal conservation.

Sorry, this attempt at alarmism is worst than anything PETA has done.

November 17, 2011 at 11:03 AM · @Tony Perkins - The US is not alone in the denial of climate change. These arguments over its validity happen in every country in the world.

The rising global investment into renewable energies is indeed due to increasing awareness of climate change - however, it is also becoming a HUGE industry and expected to rapidly rise within the next few decades. Companies are cashing in on this scare - whether it is true or not. I personally believe in the precautionary principle, however, one shouldn't make assumptions on the attitudes of countries towards global warming by the investment into renewable energies. Oil companies have been undergoing name changes calling themselves 'energy companies' and are too investing in renewable energy - renewable energy is becoming in vogue.

Anyway, back on to topic! An interesting article with a few controversial arguments there - all good to inspire some intellectual conversation! To a comment somewhere above - I don't know if I would compare PETA to the taliban! PETA is an influential organization with a belief, beliefs do not necessarily mean religion. The Taliban is an extremist Islamic militant and political group. Comparing them is in injustice to some of the good work that PETA arguably do.

I agree with SeaWorld's standpoint and the view that these parks promote conservation - however, organisations like PETA are also trying to promote their own messages. A high profile case like this is a perfect way to do it - it doesn't matter whether they win or lose, their standpoint is clear.

Long post over!

November 18, 2011 at 4:57 PM · Global warming is real? Stated like it's a fact. Really, Robert?

Honestly, you degrade your article when you state things as fact when they are in fact not. Global warming is a theory and there is as much scientific evidence that supports it as their is evidence that disputes it. The scientific community is very much divided on this issue. There also has been a lot of evidence that has been presented by climatologists that has since been proven to have been manipulated and been false. It's funny how the pro-global warming crowd just ignore that FACT.

The planet is millions of years old. That's a fact. So it's pretty arrogant for a human being who on average spends less than a hundred years here to claim that they know all about what is happening. How the planet evolves and changes is one of those things that I don't think we'll ever fully be able to understand or predict.

Mother nature has proven herself to be more powerful than humans. We destroy or damage things and miraculously she fixes them and life lives on. If global warming is in fact happening then I suspect it is not the result of human causes, but just part of the way the Earth is always changing.

The global warming fanatics are very much like PETA. They want to impose their will on others. They want to alter the way people act, live and behave. Many dislike capitalism, and the benefits of a capitalist society. Most importantly though I don't believe many really give a damn about global warming and the environment. Global warming is just a facade for their real cause.

November 21, 2011 at 5:39 AM · I concur with Eric.
I often remind people that in London the Thames used to regularly freeze over so you could walk across it and even have ice fairs. Now correct me if I'm wrong but we weren't pumping out industrial waste gases between the 1st and 15th centuries. Even if we stop industry and live off uncooked vegetables from now until cows come home ( alive ) we're not going to halt mother nature.
November 21, 2011 at 8:35 PM · My daughter is an elephant keeper at Zoo Miami. She has had a love of animals since she was very little -- and has her dream job. However, everyone in that field is well aware of the dangers involved. Accidents can happen even when you are careful in any job.

Zoos and Wildlife parks are instrumental in helping species survive that may otherwise be extinct. They serve a purpose. Support those institutions that are accredited!

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