This is a reprint of an opinion editorial in the Orlando Sentinel written by Mark Simmons and published on March 19, 2016.
We saw the inherent value in Simmons’ exact words – covering his op ed and letting those words be masked with our own wouldn’t convey the years of experience and passion this man has for marine mammal species and their future.
At 5 a.m. Thursday, SeaWorld announced that it would end its killer-whale breeding program, and would work with one of its most prolific critics, the Humane Society of the United States, a shocking change in direction.
SeaWorld has been crucified in the unjust court of public opinion. In the age of skepticism fueled by the immediacy of social media, nuance is lost.
The fact is that SeaWorld’s killer whales live as long as the most studied wild populations. When you look carefully at the science, trends indicate that in the next decade SeaWorld’s whales will outlive those same wild populations by a significant margin. They are not suffering; they are not mistreated; they are, in fact, thriving. But perception is reality, and the business side of SeaWorld is responding to perception.
SeaWorld has made mistakes that have contributed to the current atmosphere. By waiting to respond to the rhetoric for too long, the theme park allowed a perception to grow when all along it has had absolutely nothing to hide. SeaWorld’s initial failure to act created an appearance of guilt.
Many will quickly identify the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau as the beginning trajectory of recent announcements. Others will mark the debut of “Blackfish” as the turning point. Both play a role, but neither event, together or separately, was responsible for SeaWorld’s latest change. The single greatest contributing factor and mistake, in my opinion, was making SeaWorld a publicly traded company (stock symbol SEAS).
At its core, SeaWorld, or any zoo for that matter, is a societal cornerstone of education, research, awareness and conservation. These are all long-term investments — in many respects, intangible investments in generations yet to come. The short-term interests of individual shareholders are not congruent with these essential and defining characteristics of an animal-welfare organization. The corporate leadership at SeaWorld is attempting to meet the immediate demands of shareholders by eliminating criticism overnight. While this may appear a logical path on the surface, I expect it will ultimately backfire in ways no one can yet imagine. Their fight is a righteous one, but shareholders do not invest in righteousness. Show me an animal-centric organization with only short-term interests, and I’ll show you an organization without a soul.
I am, as a proud SeaWorld alum, disheartened on many levels. I consider this decision to be a punishing blow to the future of conservation across many species. SeaWorld has contributed more to the body of knowledge regarding killer whales than any other source. It has contributed more to the conservation and awareness of killer-whale issues, wild or no, than any other organization on the face of the planet. Specific to the preservation of killer whales, a vital tool in the conservation arsenal is being taken away from our future.
We are at the beginning of the Sixth Extinction event. In the next hundred years, we will experience the most rapid and large-scale loss of wildlife in studied history. This time it’s different. This time the responsibility belongs solely to the human race. Our behavior, our byproducts, our treatment of the environment have and continue to levy a great toll on the world around us.
In that same hundred years, the Earth’s population is expected to increase from 7.3 billion to nearly 11.2 billion. Anti-zoo proponents will surely claim credit for SeaWorld’s announcement, but as species after species cease to exist in the wild, time will turn their credit to blame. It will not be immediately obvious, though I am confident history will look back on this period, this film and the people seeking to destroy parks like SeaWorld as being culpable agents in what will become known as the most destructive era in animal conservation. Without our zoos, we don’t stand a chance of preserving our wildlife, killer whales included.
The liability here is not SeaWorld’s alone. As a professional in the animal field, I am and have been sorely disappointed in the lack of support for SeaWorld from the professional community and the moral majority; those who visit parks like SeaWorld and know better than the prejudiced claims of keyboard warriors. Doing the right thing is always the hardest thing to do. Many have taken the easy road, assuming this issue is not on their doorstep. There is far more at stake here than one species and one organization.
Today, SEAS shareholders, the environment, the U.S. as a global authority in animal welfare, our children’s children and most acutely, the family of SeaWorld whales now facing extinction, all lose. Today, we all lose.
Reprinted from: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-seaworld-whale-breed-end-bad-for-conservation-032016-20160319-story.html