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Recent news has revealed that the company will soon stop paying its shareholders a quarterly dividend due to its stocks being at an all-time low. Additionally, this year the parks in California, Texas and Florida have been recording their poorest attendance numbers to date.
So what are the factors that are contributing to SeaWorld's ongoing demise, and how can we ultimately envisage the closing of these aqua-prisons?
It is safe to say that much of the difficulty the park has been facing can be attributed to Blackfish, Gabriel Cowperthwaite's documentary which was released just over three years ago. Blackfish explores the life of Tilikum, a captive orca who has killed trainers out of frustration. The film draws upon interviews with former trainers and marine scientists to show how cruel such captivity is. It is shocking, uncompromising and has become a crucial film for the animal rights movement.
Although the company has promised to stop the theatre-style live shows and will no longer breed orcas in captivity, the park is still desperately bringing out new attractions to drag attendance numbers up. The CEO of the company recently announced a virtual reality roller coaster and the arrival of a documentary-style live encounter which will demonstrate 'natural' orca behaviour whilst images of the wild are projected behind onto the big-screens. How ironic. And while a move away from the "Shamu" live-action shows might be marginally better for the orcas, SeaWorld is still determined to normalise (and profit from) animal abuse. For as long as orcas are imprisoned in glorified swimming pools, the company will only be teaching cruelty and exploitation.
The company's website stresses that, alongside the attractions, there is an ongoing commitment to 'animal care, animal rescue and conservation'. Yet documentaries such Blackfish help us to open our eyes to the truth, demonstrated by the falling attendance numbers and financial difficulties. The critical and commercial success of this film, coupled with the ongoing rise of veganism (the UK alone has seen a 360% increase in the number of vegans over 10 years), highlights how we are currently seeing a greater awareness of and urgency towards animal rights. The more that this consideration grows, the harder it will be for places like SeaWorld to stay open.
Ciaran is a student based in Exeter, South West England who is interested in literature, music and veganism.
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