SeaWorld: Sink or Swim after Blackfish
January 8, 2014
January 8, 2014
In January 2013, Blackfish debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary investigates the ethical and safety records of SeaWorld and other amusement parks that use sea life as entertainment. The film features haunting footage of whales killing and injuring each other and their trainers. The filmmakers also interviewed former SeaWorld employees about safety practices and the culture of the company.
SeaWorld’s reaction? Say nothing.
The film went into wider release in July 2013. It was released on DVD in November. SeaWorld continued to keep quiet.
Then the film became available on Netflix streaming—which has more than 30 million subscribers—and many of them are active on social media.
Now SeaWorld has a crisis on its hands, fanned by social sharing:
I always wanted to go to SeaWorld but after watching #Blackfish, I really cannot picture ever going…..
— Jaylene Cooper † (@Leenie_0510) January 7, 2014
— Marisa Miller (@marisamiller) January 6, 2014
— Tongo (@VA_Tongo) January 7, 2014
— Aaron Paul (@aaronpaul_8) December 17, 2013
Since the movie grew in popularity, popular musical acts have canceled performances at the parks to avoid angering fans. Hollywood stars are sharing negative messages about the SeaWorld brand. The company is starting to fight back—it released an open letter during the holidays reasserting its commitment to safety and high ethics—but should have done so months ago.
SeaWorld continues to flop on its crisis management. The Orlando Business Journal created a poll asking readers if the documentary had changed their opinion of SeaWorld. Ninety-nine percent of respondents said no in the first two days the poll was on the site—but 54% of the votes came from an IP address attached to SeaWorld.com. SeaWorld’s Twitter account hasn’t shared a picture of an orca whale since September, and makes no mention of Blackfish or concerns about safety.
Our suggestions for SeaWorld?
Address the crisis: It’s time to discuss the issue head on. Respond to your critics by sharing the good things your company does for orca whales and other animals. Tell us repeatedly what the movie got wrong. A newspaper ad won’t cut it.
Use social media: People are talking about SeaWorld online—so SeaWorld should respond there. Share videos highlighting the positive things SeaWorld does for sea life. Get the CEO to talk about steps the company has taken to preserve the safety of trainers and animals. Respond to high-profile critics with facts. Make parents feel good about taking their kids to SeaWorld again.
Be honest: Blackfish paints a damning picture of what life is like for employees and animals at SeaWorld. If there are issues with safety, it’s time to fully explain them—and how they will be addressed. Turn this crisis around by showing us that safety is the primary concern for SeaWorld leadership.
Right now, SeaWorld is sinking in its response to criticism. If it can’t take some strong strokes forward soon, it may be too difficult to recover.