A Silent Winter for SeaWorld?
Musicians continue to cancel gigs at SeaWorld concert series.
SeaWorld has reasons to be sad lately, as the impact of the documentary Blackfish has caused a number of prominent bands to cancel their performances at the marine park, due to concerns of the cruel and inhumane practice of confining captive orcas.
Yesterday, the band Cheap Trick joined Willie Nelson, Heart and the Barenaked Ladies in cancelling performances at SeaWorld’s “Bands, Brew, and BBQ” concert series, scheduled for this coming winter.
Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) has also been contacting music groups to urge them to pass along the word to other musicians about the harm from captivity to orcas and the need to tell SeaWorld to end all import and display of dolphins and whales.
Many of the performers who have backed out of the concert cite the mounting pressure from their fans, in the wake of the popular and eye-opening documentary Blackfish.
"We’ve talked things over and decided not to play at SeaWorld at this time," the Barenaked Ladies wrote on their Facebook page after their decision. “…It’s not about money…but it is about our fans. We listen to them, and they’re important to us."
Such statements form a testament to the power of social media and individual action, as much of the opposition from fans comes in the form of tweets, Facebook messages and online petitions signatures. Mike Garrett, of St. Catherines, Ontario, initiated a Change.org petition directed at the Barenaked Ladies, saying: “As a fan, I was disappointed to learn that Barenaked Ladies is scheduled to play an upcoming show at Seaworld… I’m hoping to grab the band’s attention on this issue and ask them, on behalf of all their animal-loving fans, to reconsider performing there.” That petition alone has garnered more than 11,000 signatures so far.
Other performers have become strong opponents to the way SeaWorld treats its nonhuman charges. On December 9, singer Joan Jett issued a cease-and-desist order to SeaWorld, demanding that the company stop using her song, “I Love Rock n’ Roll,” as the opening music for the “Shamu Rocks” show at the park.
“I’m among the millions who saw Blackfish and am sickened that my music was blasted without my permission at sound-sensitive marine mammals,” said Jett in a letter to SeaWorld CEO Jim Atchison.
Officials from SeaWorld have been feeling the heat and have been caught in what appears to be mangling the truth while trying to remain cool. SeaWorld spokesman Nick Gollattscheck at first cited scheduling conflicts as the reason for Willie Nelson’s decision on December 6 to pull the plug on his performance. However, in a subsequent phone conversation with CNN, Nelson said: “I understand there are petitions going around with thousands of people’s names on it…I don’t agree with the way their treat their animals. So it wasn’t that hard a deal for me to cancel.”
The Blackfish documentary, which has been included on the Oscar shortlist for 2014 Best Documentary, exposes the suffering inherent in captivity for orca whales, including the violent capture process and the heart-rending, yet business-as-usual separation of mothers from their young. SeaWorld has been attempting to keep its multi-billion dollar company afloat among the waves of bad publicity generated by the film, but its faces a difficult future with high debt and reports of declining attendance.
And decline it should. Under US law, SeaWorld only has permission to hold marine mammals in trust for the people of the United States. Yet when the curtain is pulled back, a history of barbaric captures, mistreatments, and false educational messages is revealed. SeaWorld makes billions of dollars off a cruel show despite an emerging agreement among scientists and conservationists that cetaceans should be given basic rights.
Despite any education or research that SeaWorld claims to perform, it remains inexcusable to hold captive animals with such proven intelligence and such capacity for suffering that orcas possess. Neuroscientist Lori Marino, who helped establish the fact of self-awareness in captive dolphins, promptly ceased her studies on captive individuals for precisely these reasons.
SeaWorld will likely continue to mount a PR offensive to persuade people that using marine mammals for conducting circus acts is OK, regardless of the hardships that the orcas and dolphins clearly endure. Fortunately for the whales, conscientious musicians and thousands of concerned people around the world are taking a stand against this suffering. Let’s hope that the rest of the performers cancel their shows at SeaWorld, so that it will have a winter without music and realize that the public’s call to end whale and dolphin captivity is growing louder.
(Special thanks to Cheryl Locke for her efforts in spreading the word and providing information on the campaign.)