by Andrew Rybarczyk
It's been no secret that I've been openly critical of SeaWorld over the last year. The documentary Blackfish raised a number of questions in my head. After further research, I wrote this blog: After Blackfish, Should I Still Support SeaWorld? The film and research made me question the company, its practices, and also the support I've given them. My trips to Busch Gardens in both Tampa and Williamsburg along with my trips to SeaWorld in Orlando, Aurora, and San Antonio have always evoked pleasant memories. However, upon introspection I could no longer support the parks for two major reasons. First, after numerous accidents (some fatal), I did not support trainers in the water. Secondly, I also did not approve of the way SeaWorld housed its killer whales and thought the animal enclosures were far too small for an animal of that size. Other issues raised were the issues of how truthful the corporation was and its treatment of orca families. My ultimate stance was to no longer support SeaWorld or Busch parks with the only way I could vote on the issue, my wallet. It was a tough choice because of the fond memories, but I could not in good conscience support a company that I felt was doing wrong in my eyes.
Yesterday morning, I opened my email and was shocked to read what I saw. Before I start with this, let me say that I had been contemplating writing a blog about what SeaWorld should do to restore its image in the consumer's eyes. As many of you know, this week SeaWorld released some pretty dismal financial news and the stock market responded accordingly with a 30% drop in price in one day. That's a devastating number to a company who just over a year ago released its IPO to resounding success. In this blog I was going to write about where SeaWorld had gone wrong and how they could right the ship. Yesterday, however, SeaWorld wrote my blog for me.
The Blue World Project, as SeaWorld is calling it, will double the size of the killer whale habitat in San Diego. Not only will it increase in size but it will feature technology to create currents to give the whales even more "diversity" in habitat experience. What's even better is that it seems as if the park is making it a truly unique viewing experience with views at eye level, above the water and below the water. This enclosure is exactly the type of thing I envisioned when I thought about how the park could restore its image. Obviously issue two was also resolved by the courts when they refused SeaWorld's request to put trainers back into the water. I'd also say that embarking on not only this investment but also a $10 million investment into the research of killer whales also alleviates my concerns about the corporation. To be honest, I never expected to see this. SeaWorld was so dug in with their "truth team" that I never thought I would see them budge an inch or admit that what they were doing wasn't the best. Both these moves changed that perception and impressed me greatly. Because of that, I say with certainty, that I can now change my answer that I have been asked persistently over the last year. Yes, I support SeaWorld.
With that being said, I will not diminish the "Blackfish Effect." I stand by my position I held for the last year and look proudly on every word I wrote or uttered. Let me also say these were not easy words to speak. Like I said before, I enjoyed my time at Busch Gardens and SeaWorld and it pained me to have to give them up for my beliefs. I truly believe, though, that it is because of Blackfish that these orcas will now be able to live in a habitat the likes of which have never been seen before. Like it or hate it, Blackfish shone a light on a part of SeaWorld that was not pretty. You can dispute facts or trivia presented, but in the end the major issues resonated with me and many others. I believe that through this new investment that SeaWorld can truly move positively into the future. I know that the radicals will not be pleased by this, but guess what, radicals of all sorts are never pleased. SeaWorld needed to win over the common park guest like myself. They have done that.
So in short, thank you Blackfish for opening my eyes to this cause. It has been a struggle the past year, but I believe I am better for having gone through it. Thank you SeaWorld for restoring my faith in your company that has provided me joy over the years and can now do so once again.