A year after it’s initial release date, the documentary “Blackfish” has shocked many people around the world. It caused more than an outbreak of controversy revolving around Seaworld, but also a division of belief. Does the documentary illustrate the ultimate truth about Seaworld, or is it simply a compilation of former angry Seaworld trainers?
I’ve been following the impact of the film over the past several months. Musicians such as The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson and Martina McBride have cancelled their events at Seaworld. I’ve only seen a few PR-focused responses directly from Seaworld, and with a PR background, these responses seem routine and, in my opinion, generic. They don’t make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and they definitely haven’t convinced me to disregard everything disputed in the documentary.
In the past month, Seaworld made three blog posts. Killer whales were the subject of each post. I think Seaworld should have taken a stance and made an immediate response the moment this documentary was released in January 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival.
Recently becoming a target, Southwest Airlines has been asked by film supporters to discontinue their partnership with Seaworld. Southwest responded to this request stating they are in a “listening and education mode”. I may be bias since I am a huge Southwest fan, but I think this is the perfect response- neutral and understanding. They aren’t making any irrational decisions and continue to stay true to their culture, which is why I am constantly a proud supporter of Southwest. Other companies under fire include Groupon and Toys’R’Us. Clearly this documentary sparked many fires of passion for these animals, whether you’re for or against the Seaworld operation.
As for my view: I grew up visiting Seaworld. Being from Dallas, San Antonio is an easy weekend getaway for most families. I’ve been there at least a half dozen times. The last time was during my sophomore year in college with my family. I always enjoyed myself and never left with a sad feeling. Along with the entertainment, I remember learning facts about marine animals and how Seaworld has helped conserve and give back. Never once did I have a negative thought about this wonderful place.
October seemed to be the month Blackfish went ‘viral’. I saw dozens of posts about it on Facebook, and being a Netflix subscriber, I instantly watched it. After viewing the film, I was left in complete shock. I felt so sad for the animals and it seemed I had been unknowingly betrayed by the Seaworld brand. My non-profit of choice is any charity that involves rescuing, rehabilitating or conserving the precious lives of animals, so this film had an immediate effect on me.
With that said- I know Blackfish is a documentary. I know it was exposing all the terrible things that have happened and it was made to sway the opinions of the viewing audience. While this film deeply saddened me, I cannot say I believe 100 percent of the claims being made. I’ve taken away a few things from Blackfish.
#1- When you are faced with a crisis, you must make an immediate response. If Seaworld would have been more present since the beginning of the film’s release, I believe they could have prevented some of the mess that has been made.
#2- Don’t change your beliefs after being exposed to one side of a story. People want you to be on their side, and sometimes they will do whatever it takes to get you to believe in what they are selling you. I love documentaries and I think many of them have exposed many truths, but I know not to let them completely change my view on things.
#3- Out of all those affected by this documentary, Southwest Airlines decided to stay neutral. That’s the best approach in my opinion. They need time and more research before reaching a solid decision.
Having a background in public relations helped me keep my ground on this subject and I know there’s always two sides to every story. This is an ongoing study that I personally find very interesting and will continue to research.