Southwest: Blackfish backlash

A Southwest Airlines painted in the Shamu livery. Grin or grimace? (Photo: Midland Airport)

A Southwest Airlines painted in the Shamu livery. Grin or grimace? (Photo: Midland Airport)

By now you’ve likely seen or heard about “Blackfish,” the controversial documentary movie about how the capture and treatment of SeaWorld’s Orca whales results in poor health, boredom, and in some cases, whales attacking their handlers.  The film has resulted in a growing outcry in support of the whales and against the mighty SeaWorld franchise, which operates popular parks in San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando. It’s in the running to be nominated for for “Best Documentary” by the Academy Awards.

Defending itself in a statement last summer, the company said that the film is,  “shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate.” Despite the brouhaha, SeaWorld claimed this week that its attendance numbers set records in Q4 2013.

(SeeBlackfish  movie trailer here, it recently aired on CNN and is now available on NetFlix.)

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Amid the controversy, many of the smiles generated by the sight of Southwest’s “Shamu” themed jets (which frequent the Bay Area) have likely turned to grimaces. Last week protesters lined up in front of Southwest HQ in Dallas demanding an end to the carrier’s relationship with SeaWorld. Last week, Southwest made the following statement on its blog.

Over the past few weeks we’ve observed a number of Customers and community members reach out to Southwest Airlines regarding our partnership with SeaWorld.  We want our Customers to know that we’ve heard your concerns and we do not take them lightly.  I felt it was necessary to share our position on the partnership and hopefully address any concerns. We have a longstanding relationship with SeaWorld that is based on travel and bringing families together. We are engaged with SeaWorld related to the recent concerns being raised.   We are in a listening and education mode with the goal of upholding our commitments as a good corporate citizen.  As a responsible member of the community, we support several organizations and events that are devoted to maintaining the natural world. At this time, our partnership with SeaWorld will continue.

What’s even more interesting than the blog post are the comments it’s engendered, some of which request that Southwest perform its own investigation into SeaWorld’s practices and reconsider the partnership. Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt of Hudson Crossing echoed those comments, telling TravelSkills, “Southwest is doing exactly what it should do: listening and learning. Southwest can’t, and shouldn’t, make any decision without objective facts . . . I believe it would be beneficial for it to obtain independent, objective insight into SeaWorld’s treatment of the various animals in its care. ”

According to Blackfish, whales with flaccid dorsal fins are rarely seen in the wild, but nearly alway present on captives (Photo: Dogwoof Films)

According to Blackfish, whales with flaccid dorsal fins are rarely seen in the wild, but the bent fins are nearly always present on captives (Photo: Dogwoof Films)

Hmmm. When I see the words “at this time” in a corporate statement it makes me think that Southwest is probably considering backing out of this relationship, but can’t get out of its contracts fast enough. What do you think? Have you seen Blackfish? Does Southwest’s partnership with SeaWorld affect your airline decision? Please leave your comments below.

– Chris McGinnis

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  • Mike Borg

    I fly frequently, and have previously almost exclusively used Southwest. However, I have recently told Southwest that until such time as they end their partnership with SeaWorld I will never fly with them again. Not only do I not want to give my money to a partner of SeaWorld, but I would never set foot on an airplane that directly promotes cetacean captivity through it’s livery. I sincerely hope that they do an independent investigation as suggested. If they do, and they hold true to their statement of being a good corporate citizen and maintaining the natural world, they will have no choice but to end the partnership.

  • Veronica Wolski

    I will not be flying Southwest Airlines now, or at anytime in the future until they severe all ties with Seaworld. I have family who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and I travel to visit them at least 3 times a year with my daughter. I will definitely be making other decisions on the carrier I will be using until there is a change in Southwest’s relationship with Seaworld. I have flown exclusively Southwestern for at least 15 years, so this decision will be put into it’s proper context. Thank you.

  • http://www.travelskills.com/ Chris McGinnis

    love it! very clever– Chris

  • ChadHorn

    If you want truth in marketing…

  • Richard Jenrette

    Danielle – you are a genius! Love, love, love Sylvia Earle! I saw Blackfish and was horrified. Seaworld will never get any of my money and i’d certainly think twice before flying with Southwest if i actually thought they were endorsing them.

  • http://www.travelskills.com/ Chris McGinnis

    Some good ideas! Thanks– chris

  • Danielle Thys

    I have an acquaintance who was a trainer for Sea World in the 1990′s and left the job for all the reasons depicted in Blackfish. He’d thought he was entering a totally different kind of organization, but quit before a year was up because, as a marine biologist, it was obvious to him the Orcas were utterly tormented by their captivity. Southwest should never have signed on to promote a business with a such a cruel and shameful mission. No need to repaint the planes, either. Just a couple tweaks and they can go from advertising Sea World, to evangelizing for ocean health through Mission Blue and the Sylvia Earle Alliance. http://www.mission-blue.org – Zero to hero in almost no time! Just imagine… Southwest might even be inspired to consider alternatives to the billions of single-use plastic drink cups, and start reducing their contribution to the giant floating garbage patch that’s now larger than the State of Texas.

  • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

    Good article. I love southwest, but keeping orcas in captivity is absurd. Southwest should definitely get some flack here….

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