blackfish

 Sea World PR Disaster

by Chelbie Hunger

SeaWorld has had a history of being caught in the middle of many controversial issues over the past four decades. Most of the focus has been on use of orcas in their shows, which have been trained to preform tricks for an audience. Recently, the company has come under attack from not only the media and activist groups but also the general public. The heat is coming from many different platforms, slander on the internet, ticket sales dropping and celebrities canceling special appearances.

The release of the documentary “Blackfish” has had a huge effect on the parks and the marine life that is cared for. “Blackfish” follows the story of the preforming killer whale Tilikum, a 23-year-old orca that is the suspect of three trainer deaths. The documentary premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and was given rave reviews at the festival. In recent weeks it has been released on video and the popular company Netflix has also picked it up. Along with many articles and websites having their own journalist weigh in. Social Media has also played huge part in causing a stirrup for the PR team a. Just on my personal Facebook feed I have had dozens of references to “Blackfish” and related negative information about the parks.

One big factor that has played a leading role in the PR cleanup was the removal of an article published on Forbes.com that was questioning the ethics of SeaWorld. That article was only up on the website for proximately 24 hours before taken down. Elizabeth MacDonald reported for Fox Business that perhaps Blackstone’s acquirement of the SeaWorld franchise which in turn does business with Forbes.com. So with that being known we can only come to the assumption that this is a situations of biting the hand that feeds you. Deleting the article was a mistake done to make Blackstone (the company that has ownership rights over Forbes.com and SeaWorld) happy but cause and uproar with the public. Google copied the article and stashed at outside.com so that it would stay in circulation after the original was discontinued. The removal of the article may have caused more of an issue than if it was left up and taken the hits. Thousands of people have expressed their disapproval of the actions of Forbes.com.

Experts at the parks have come out with a rebuttal that there are inconsistency in the “Blackfish” documentary. SeaWorld has also created a section of the website that has counter information regarding the claims the film made against the parks. It states that much of what is in the documentary is false information. That the trainers interviewed for the film never worked with the deceased trainers or with Tilikum. Also, there are public record documents to back up the accusations of the falsify information that was presented in the film. This was a good move for the PR team to compile a section on the website stating their feelings and defending their reputation.

The PR team has done a good job at highlighting conservation efforts throughout the world and have been at the front of conducting research and educating the public about wildlife for the past 40 years. Millions of dollars is provided each year to conservation efforts and have made huge gains for marine science and have developed tools for discoveries. The parks have been attacked by activist groups that only have whalehalf of the story to what SeaWorld is about and what is contributed to environment as a whole. If PR can show the publics that business is being conducted in good faith then the company will be able to push past the effects the documentary caused.

2 Comments

  1. The whole Blackfish controversy has pulled me in both directions. When I originally saw the documentary it made me incredibly sad but I wasn’t ready to boycott Sea World because with most things like this, the film was created to evoke emotion and cause a stir, however it did cast Sea World in a different light for me. When I tried to research it more, I found a statement Sea World had made basically debunking the entire documentary piece by piece. The way that they had handled it made me feel a lot better about the film. How much, if any of that film is true I will never know, but Sea World’s PR team did a great job of giving me reason to see it as nothing more than a film created for entertainment.

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