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Mitch Perry Report for 3.17.16 – SeaWorld takes seminal step for animal rights

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

In a major announcement, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Inc. said Thursday it will stop breeding captive killer whales.

On the company’s blog, the company said it’s phasing out over the next three years theatrical performances featuring orcas. “We will introduce new, inspiring, natural orca encounters rather than theatrical shows, as part of our ongoing commitment to education, marine science research and the rescue of marine animals.”

For years, animal rights activists had protested in vain that holding such animals in captivity was the wrong thing to do.

Then there was the March 2010 tragedy at the SeaWorld in Orlando, when a trainer named Dawn Brancheau was killed by an orca named Tilkum.

I went to the “amusement park” a week later for a story I wrote for Creative Loafing at the time: “Whale of a question: Are activists right to criticize institutions like SeaWorld for keeping animals in captivity?”

The issue went global three years later, with the release of “Blackfish,”  a documentary that delved deeper into the 2010 incident, and the issue of orcas suffering in captivity. It was repeatedly aired on CNN, and through social media, the campaign began in earnest to stop such activities from occurring at SeaWorld parks in Orlando, as well as San Diego and San Antonio.

It also had a deleterious affect on Tampa’s Busch Gardens, owned by SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. In early 2014, musical acts such as Pat Benatar and the Beach Boys canceled performances at Busch Gardens. Those cancellations prompted a spokesman for the Tampa theme park to mutter, “We’re disappointed that there is a media controversy enacted by animal activists and based on misinformation.”

That “misinformation” was something that SeaWorld would tell any of its critics, as its bottom line started to become affected by the negative stench emanating from the whole process.

SeaWorld’s 29 killer whales will remain in captivity, but in “new, inspiring natural orca encounters,” according to the company. SeaWorld’s orcas range in age from 1 to 51 years old, so some could remain on display for decades

It’s a big victory for the animal rights movement. PETA supports the changes, but called for SeaWorld to transfer the animals to sea pens and release those that could be reintroduced to the wild.

The news comes a week after it was reported that hat Tilikum, SeaWorld’s largest and best-known killer whale, is dying from a drug-resistant bacterial lung infection.

In other news …

Rick Baker says he’s going to announce soon whether he’s in or out in the CD 13 race.

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Meanwhile, Charlie Crist held a news conference in front of St. Petersburg City Hall on Thursday, where more than half of City Council endorsed him in that race.

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Bob Buckhorn is about to sign a new law in Tampa decriminalizing the possession of pot.

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Meanwhile, the Tampa City Council goes against the mayor’s sentiments, supporting a resolution in opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. 

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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