Friday, December 27, 2013

SeaWorld “Protests Too Much, Methinks”

The next several weeks and months will undoubtedly be interesting thanks to SeaWorld’s fateful choice to enter the “Blackfish” debate. Another organization might have chosen to be silent and wait for the furor to subside, but SeaWorld has chosen an alternative disposition.

When entering a debate, one of the fundamental tenants is to focus on the position or argument presented by the opposition, but SeaWorld has not followed this core principle. As part of their current public relations campaign, SeaWorld prefers to provide information that in no way addresses the issues raised in “Blackfish”. In the world of organized debate, SeaWorld would receive a failing grade.

To understand the reasons for their current choices, one does not need to look any further than the bottom line. Money makes the world go around and financial gain is probably a key driver behind the current campaign, but it this case, one of the sources of the greed could be external to SeaWorld.

If SeaWorld engaged consultants to provide advice regarding how to manage their current predicament, and these consultants advised SeaWorld to do nothing, it would be difficult to submit a large, annotated invoice for hours of consulting time. “Doing nothing” does not generate commission on the costs of newspapers advertisements or on the fees paid to supposedly neutral third parties who have been engaged to extoll the virtues of SeaWorld.

An article published today in the Orlando Sentinel by the President of the Central Florida Partnership, Jacob Stuart, My Word: SeaWorld helps enrich lives in Central Fla.” is one of the latest efforts to defend SeaWorld. Stuart uses the hollow platitude that SeaWorld is a “trusted name” and he arrives at the crux of his argument went he states, “SeaWorld has 11 parks in five states, and recently chose Central Florida as the permanent home for its corporate headquarters. Between Orlando and Tampa, SeaWorld has five parks that provide more than 10,000 full-time and part-time positions.”

The number of employees is not at issue, nor is the choice of location for the corporate headquarters. It is interesting that Stuart’s article does not mention “Blackfish” by name. Perhaps the writer was following a “style guide” drafted by a public relations consultant who suggested that “Blackfish” not be specifically identified, but anyone who was not aware of the documentary might be curious as to the name of the “speculative and one-sided documentary”.

One of the biggest news stories this year in Canada was the antics of Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor, Rob Ford. He has a colourful history and his mouth continues to move; providing an endless supply of sound bites for late night talk shows hosts.   

“Blackfish” will be talked about for years to come not only because of how it shone a bright light on the issue of killer whales in captivity, but as a study in media relations. SeaWorld’s response to this documentary could prove to be one of the most disastrous public relations campaigns in recent history. Perhaps business students will detail the various mistakes made by SeaWorld, but SeaWorld’s first and fundamental communication error was simple. They entered a debate when they had no credible defense.

To the well-informed, articles such as the above mentioned by Jacob Stuart are amusing and for those who have not questioned killer whale captivity, SeaWorld’s defense serves to raise curiosity and opens the dialogue about “Blackfish” and the issues it presents.

SeaWorld, you really do protest too much but a question must be asked. Were you also reading Hamlet? Perhaps you were, and as a mantra for your current creative media campaign, you selected, “to thine own self be true”.

For the Oceans,



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Youths who Killed 65 Seals Receive No Jail Time

On January 27, 2013, three youths from Prince Edward Island, Canada, killed 65 seals who were resting on the shore on the Eastern end of the Island. Veterinarians from the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown confirmed the seals died from blunt force trauma to the head and that not all of them died immediately. A necropsy concluded that 10 seal pups had severely fractured skulls. 

Only when a reward was offered, did a member of the local community name the perpetrators. The 15 and 17-year-olds who could not be identified because of their age and 18-year-old Colton Clements, admitted to using a hockey stick, a club and a clam hack to kill the seals. They disposed of the club and clam hack and burned the hockey stick.

The court heard that it was the 15-year-old who came up with the idea and that he killed the majority of the seals while the other two went along with the plan. The youngest offender said “seals are like mice in your cupboards”. He did not seem to understand why people were so upset. The 17-year-old, the only one of the three who had been drinking at the time of the incident, killed 2 seals and stopped because he “felt bad for the seals.”  He said, “I knew it was wrong and I wish I had not done it.” The 18-year-old killed 5 seals and stopped, but made no attempt to prevent the 15-year-old from bludgeoning the rest of the seals.
They were all sentenced today in Georgetown in front of Judge Nancy Orr. The two juveniles received fines, two years of probation, 200 hours of community service, and because they enjoy hunting and fishing, they will not be allowed to do these activities for two years.
The 18-year-old was given a similar sentence, but a slightly larger fine even though he could have received up to five years in jail. In making her ruling, Judge Orr said the maximum sentence was for the worst offenses with the worst facts and for the worst offenders. She said “the facts are bad, but this is not the worst offender” because this young man had no prior history of violence and had not been in trouble of any kind. 
Undoubtedly, Judge Orr will come under criticism for her decisions, but she is restricted in terms of how she can punish youthful offenders. Colton Clements was one month past his 18th birthday and just three months older than the 17-year-old. Judge Orr said she would not make him the “sacrificial lamb” so she opted to punish him in a similar fashion as she did the other two perpetrators.
A letter of support for the three youths suggested, “they were undoubtedly influenced by the low opinion of seals in a tight fishing community.”  Online comments expressed outrage, but those in the local community seemed to support these young men and perhaps even their motives.

Seals are blamed for the decline in cod stocks even though seals prey upon the predators of cod. The death of seals in this region is routine, as seal hunters venture onto the ice each spring to kills baby seals despite the fact that there is no market for Canadian seal products.

This is not the first time that Georgetown, population 693, has experienced a collision of sentiments between those who kill seals and those who defend these marine mammals. In 2008, violence erupted on the dock as locals cut the dock lines of the Sea Shepherd Conversation Society’s vessel, the Farley Mowat.
It takes a community to raise a child, and it was this community that raised the three who committed horrific acts of violence against a herd of seals. Violence against animals is often a precursor to violence against people and these young men need professional help. The lens through which they view the world is flawed.

If there is a miniscule ray of hope in this land of love for seal killers, it is that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans investigated, charges were made, and there were convictions even though the punishment was minimal. At least the killing of these seals was deemed a crime, unlike the senseless slaughter than happens every year in Canada in the name of tradition and commerce.
For the Oceans,
Grey Seal