It’s been a rough past few months for Sea World—the theme park chain has come under fire for its treatment of its signature orca whales, a concern that was brought to light by the documentary film Blackfish. That movie enjoyed a successful theatrical run, a premiere on CNN, and prominent positioning on VOD services like Netflix, which gave audiences plenty of opportunity to hear some disturbing information about the ethics of keeping orcas in captivity. As a result of the attention, a host of the park’s musical attractions opted out of performing—names with no less cultural cachet than Willie Nelson (who declared that “Sea World is not okay”) among them—which served only to further publicize the controversy around the parks’ primary attraction.
But take that “rough past few months” up there with a grain of salt, because, according to Sea World, it’s also been the most successful time in the franchise’s history. At the bottom of this story from the San Antonio Express-News, we learn that:
SeaWorld said last month that it has had the best-ever attendance for the last quarter of 2013 and expects to report record full-year revenue of about $1.46 billion when the newly public company officially reports its fourth-quarter results in March, according to The Associated Press.
That Q4 posting from 2013 trumps even the Q3 posting from the same year, which had set the previous record. That means that all of the negative publicity surrounding Sea World since the release of Blackfish may have actually driven more people to the parks. The company itself seems quite proud to tout its success in the face of the controversy—which is a reasonable thing for them to do. Also reasonable is the company’s decision to create its own videos that refute the claims made by Blackfish.
Mark Simmons, a former SeaWorld Orlando trainer who was featured briefly in the movie, said in one of the videos that his three hours of interview for the film was not included because he didn’t agree with the premise.
“What really upset me was the idea that SeaWorld deceived its trainers and the public, because that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Simmons, who was interviewed by the Express-News in January, said the whales are treated “like royalty.”
The videos, which appear at the URL www.SeaWorldParks.com/Truth, rigorously defend the parks and the way the whales are treated. Ultimately, though, it’s not clear if it matters: It seems like, for the most part, people who are interested in Sea World are still going to go, and people who oppose keeping the whales in captivity have just received another reason not to.