SeaWorld-HSUS Union Called Out Over ‘Free Willy’ Orca

SeaWorld has been having a bad time since the airing of the documentary Blackfish. The film allegedly exposed the treatment of orcas in the park, specifically Tilikum, the whale who killed three people.

SeaWorld’s saving grace came this year in the form of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The humane organization helped scoop SeaWorld’s plummeting stocks by getting the park to agree to stop breeding orcas, and refashion its whale entertainment shows.

SeaWorld HSUS CEOs, Manby and Pacelle
SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle [Photo by Richard Drew/AP]
While animal welfare activists agree that this is a step in the right direction, the outcry continues. Protesters want to see an end to life in the tanks for the sea mammals.

Some, such as Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson, have even gone so far as to call HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle a “Judas” for the alliance with SeaWorld, its longtime former adversary.

“This partnership is not really so surprising when we consider that HSUS previously partnered with abusive dog fighting criminal Michael Vick to help him return to acceptability in the public eye.”

Several organizations have proposed the implementation of sea pens, which would give the whales access to large coves or bays to swim in, allowing them much more room to move in a natural setting.

As outlined in this Inquisitr article, Pacelle seemed to be ruminating on the possibilities of implementing sea pens into the future of SeaWorld’s remaining orcas.

But a new SeaWorld ad, which according to journalist David Neiwert “Slaps Its New Orca Allies In the Face,” decries the possibility of setting whales free. The ad throws up the Free Willy whale Keiko as example.

“Most of the orcas at SeaWorld were born here. Sending them into the wild wouldn’t be noble. It could be fatal. When they freed Keiko, the killer whale of movie fame, the effort was a failure, and he perished.”

The ad, which Neiwert described “as if the SeaWorld public-relations team was intentionally lobbing uncooked eggs onto Pacelle’s face. Stinky, lying eggs,” did not mention sea pens.

What it did was slam the effort of integrating Keiko, an effort which Pacelle in his blog had already called a success. Neiwert didn’t hesitate to bring this up.

“Throwing the Keiko story out there as a “failure” was a particular slap in the face to the HSUS, since they had been in charge of the orca when he died in 2003.”

In an open letter to Wayne Pacelle, documentary filmmaker Theresa Demarest defended the effort to free Keiko. Demarest is the creator of the award-winning film Keiko: The Untold Story of the Star of ‘Free Willy’.

Demarest said that Keiko’s release, though not a “storybook tale,” was significant in many ways.

“SeaWorld’s dismissal of the effort particularly with its current anti-Keiko ad campaign, is dishonest and self-serving. They are obviously trying to cover up their past and current abuses toward orcas and sea life in general. If the public clearly understood the reality of the tremendous successes of the Keiko project, SeaWorld would have no choice but to continue to invest their dollars into providing a natural habitat for these amazing creatures.”

Demarest went on to list the ways in which Keiko’s rehabilitation back into the wild had worked:

• Thrived in his post-captivity period for more than five years,
• Mixed it up with wild orcas and manifested physical signs of attempts to mate,
• Left his trainers, followed a wild pod, and traveled on his own from Iceland to Norway, having fed himself for over six weeks and arriving as a fat, well-fed whale,
• Gained over 3,000 lbs. during his rehabilitation
• Finally, became the second longest-lived male captive orca in history at the time of his death, and the only captive orca to be returned to his natural habitat with the successful use of a sea pen.

She added that “There is so much to learn from what was done on his behalf by your organization.”

According to New Canaan News, Wayne Pacelle will speak April 23 at 1:30 p.m. at the New Canaan Nature Center, 144 Oenoke Ridge Road, New Canaan, Connecticut. Pacelle will talk about “his experience working with SeaWorld, and about how American business and public policy is changing forever how we treat animals and conduct commerce.” His stories will come from his new book, The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers are Transforming the Lives of Animals.

[Photo by Chris Park/Associated Press]

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