SeaWorld Changes Its Whale Show

It took since the opening of the movie "Blackfish" in July 2013: after increasing protests and declining park attendance, SeaWorld has finally announced the end of its killer whale show-in some form.

The documentary and other critics accused the theme park of keeping and mistreating orcas in captivity. Although the news reports that shows are ending, they will reopen with a different type of show in 2017. CEO Joel Manby describes a "natural setting, natural environment, and also the natural behaviors of the whale."

This report from the Today Show features Samantha Berg, a former SeaWorld trainer who appeared in "Blackfish." (Sam is also a Cornell graduate and was a guest speaker for my Corporate Communication class last year.)

Critics say the new show plan is a "bait and switch" and perpetuates captivity of the whales.

As the news was hitting media reports, SeaWorld published two major communications-neither mentions the decision to end shows as we know them:

  • A video, "This is How SeaWorld is Taking Action to Make a Better World for Animals," describing the organization's rescue efforts and the emotional appeal of its parks
  • A post on its website

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your view of SeaWorld's PR strategy? Should the organization mention the show changes in its communications, or is it a smart decision to avoid the topic entirely?
  • Many news reports focus on ending on the shows, but that's not quite the story we hear from the Today Show clip. Are the news reports short-term, deceiving, or something else?