By Scott Rowan
March 3, 2015, 7:58 a.m.
It isn’t as simple as one family member aiding another, but the Dolphins have stepped up to help save the orcas. Specifically, the NFL’s Miami Dolphins have ended their controversial three-year relationship with SeaWorld due to growing backlash from the theme park’s treatment of its star attraction: orcas.
Though commonly referred to as killer whales, orcas are actually the world’s largest dolphins. Both species are mammals with what is believed to be the highest intelligence in the ocean, using complex communications skills to communicate with others of their kind in large pods, or social groups.
The Miami Dolphins became the epicenter of a nationwide discussion over the past couple years season after it was revealed that several Dolphins players bullied one of their own teammates to the point that offensive lineman Jonathan Martin quit the team. An NFL investigation released a 144-page document in February 2014 of the extensive mistreatment Martin received from not just teammates, but coaches as well.
Which sounds oddly familiar to what critics of SeaWorld claim their handlers have been doing to their orcas.
While the Miami Dolphins have not released a statement detailing why they have ended their relationship, the growing public awareness of alleged mistreatment of animals at SeaWorld is the clearly at the heart of the matter. The Dolphins are not alone. Virgin Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Taco Bell, Hyundai have all distanced their companies from SeaWorld. Add to that list Savings.com as well as a galaxy of music stars who openly said what representatives of the other companies fleeing SeaWorld would not: it’s all about “Blackfish.”
In a Facebook posting announcing their cancelled show at Seaworld, .38 Special posted that the change was “due to concerns raised by the CNN documentary ‘Blackfish.’”
The 2013 film “Blackfish” documents and questions the captivity of killer whales, and sparked widespread emotional support for the animals, much like the response from the 2009 film “The Cove” which revealed the inhumane slaughter of dolphins in Taijii, Japan. Recent backlash against SeaWorld was spearheaded by several petitions begun at change.org to end public and corporate support of SeaWorld.
Willie Nelson was blunt in his explanation for severing ties with SeaWorld: “I don’t agree with the way they treat their animals. It wasn’t that hard a deal for me.
SeaWorld’s concert series was decimated with the defection of musicians who refuse to play at the theme park. In addition to Nelson, other music groups who cancelled shows at SeaWorld were Barenaked Ladies, Trisha Yearwood, Cheap Trick, Heart, .38 Special, REO Speedwagon, Martina McBride and The Beach Boys. Other musicians, angry that their songs were being used in the orca shows without their knowledge, demanded their music be removed from the SeaWorld shows. Songs by Joan Jett (“I Love Rock and Roll”), Savage Garden (“The Animal Song”) and Edgar Winter (“Free Ride”) have been used in the aquatic show. When she learned her song was part of what she felt was a “cruel and abusive” shows, Jett said she was “sickened.”
All the negative backlash has hit SeaWorld where it hurts the most: the bank account. The Orlando-based company lost more than $80 million in 2014, including stock fluctuations that resulted in a 40 percent drop. SeaWorld also announced that it would cut 300 jobs, including that of chief executive Jim Atkinson. In the past month, SeaWorld employees didn’t get paid due to a clerical error, leaving the remaining executives with the task of trying to prove that the “ship isn’t sinking,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The only official partners listed on SeaWorld’s website are Coca-Cola, American Express, Panama Jack, Bad Boy (lawn) Mowers and Snickers. While the Miami Dolphins are not listed on the page, there are still pages on both the sites for the Dolphins and SeaWorld that promote their relationship. The relationship between the two organizations was scheduled to end this month.
A petition to end animal cruelty was recently begun at change.org in response to the new partnership between SeaWorld and American Express.