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I am a consultant and general counsel to International Ride Training LLC as well as a practicing attorney in Avon, Connecticut. A particular focus of mine is the legal needs of the amusement and tourism industry. My focus on the amusement industry derives from my pre-law career as an operations manager with Cedar Fair Entertainment Company and Universal Orlando. Having started my career as a ride operator at Cedar Point in 1992, I progressed through the seasonal ranks and ultimately became the Manager of Ride Operations and Park Services at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City. I also worked in Universal's operations department during the construction and development of Islands of Adventure. Today, I am an active member of the New England Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions and the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions. I have been invited to speak at amusement industry meetings and seminars and have worked on a variety of matters relating to this industry.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Blackfish / White Lies? (Pt. 1): Sorry, I Forgot To Mention, They're All Activists

“Proof of bias is almost always relevant because the jury, as finder of fact and weigher of credibility, has historically been entitled to assess all evidence which might bear on the accuracy and truth of a witness' testimony.”

United States v. Abel, 469 U.S. 45, 52 (1984). 

Former Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court William Rhenquist wrote these words nearly 30 years ago.  They are as true in the Court of Public Opinion as they are in a court of law.  Blackfish has a lot of “testimony” that is presented without any hint of potential bias – quite the opposite actually.  Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite strongly suggests the outright credibility of most of the people who appear in the film.  After all, who better to speak about what is going on with SeaWorld’s whales than a bunch of ex-trainers who spent years working with them?  Who better to explain the science behind orca behavior and biology than experts in the field and a neuroscientist who has studied the brain of a killer whale up close?  Since Blackfish provides no background on any of these individuals, other than what is necessary to establish their credibility, the “jury” in the Court of Public Opinion is left with nothing to assess the true credibility of their “testimony.”  In a court of law, questions of bias are raised through cross examination.  Similarly, in true journalistic pieces, the journalist “cross examines” his or her source by, for example, playing the “devil’s advocate” and challenging them to explain, debunk, or address potential sources of bias.  Cross examination and journalistic honesty are vital tools that allow the audience to decide for themselves whether what is being said is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  But in Blackfish, there is no “cross examination” of the "witnesses" the "jury" is expected to believe.  Consequently, it is easy to view Blackfish as telling its story though an objective lens.  But that’s just not the case.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite and the "cast" of Blackfish
 Now, let's be clear.  Having a bias does not make a person a liar.  It is perfectly reasonable to say that some people may set aside their biases in the interest of telling an objective story.  But that does not mean that we, as critically thinking jurors in the Court of Public Opinion should assume that to be the case.  As a juror, we have every right to know the potential biases that exist in Blackfish and, after considering those biases, to decide for ourselves whether the "testimony" we've heard is the truth, an exaggeration of the truth, or a lie.  As jurors, we have the right (perhaps the obligation) to decide if a witness' biases are so strongly held that they are incapable of objectivity – even with conscious effort. 

The Ex-SeaWorld Trainers
So let’s talk about the “witnesses” in Blackfish.  Who are they?  I think the obvious place to start is with the former trainers and, in particular, John Jett, Jeffrey Ventre, and Samantha Berg who, based solely on screen time, can reasonably be characterized as the “leads” of the film.  So who are they, aside of course from “ex-trainers” as stated in the film.

Samantha Berg
 Let’s look first at Samantha Berg, the ex-trainer who arguably got the most screen time in Blackfish.  While it is true that Ms. Berg is an ex-SeaWorld trainer, she is also a self-described anti-captivity activist with ties to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”), an organization known for its radical political agenda and activism.  In fact, Ms. Berg was, along with PETA, a plaintiff (on behalf of SeaWorld’s killer whales) in a federal lawsuit captioned Tilikum v. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc. – the infamous “killer whale slavery” case about which I’ve written previously.  The complaint filed on Ms. Berg’s behalf in that case, which although filed years before the release of Blackfish could be read as a synopsis of the film, says this about Ms. Berg:

“Since leaving SeaWorld Orlando, Ms. Berg has regularly spoken out as an advocate against keeping orcas in captivity.”

(Incidentally, Carol Ray, another ex-trainer also featured, albeit briefly, in the film was also a participant in this lawsuit and is described in identical terms.)

The Tillikum lawsuit was pretty remarkable for the extreme position it advanced – namely that SeaWorld was violating the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on slavery and involuntary servitude by holding killer whales in captivity.  This theory, which the Court dismissed within hours of hearing argument on SeaWorld’s motion to dismiss, was unprecedented and a truly radical attempt to expand Constitutional rights beyond human beings to non-human animals – a concept that no doubt would have been quite foreign to the founding fathers.  In short, Ms. Berg’s participation in the Tilikum lawsuit alone should be enough to cause the jury in the Court of Public Opinion to pause and consider whether her “testimony” in Blackfish is biased or not.

Carol Ray, John Jett, Jeffrey Ventre, and Samantha Berg also collectively run a website called “Voice of the Orcas” dedicated to “providing a voice to those without.”  Voice of the Orcas states that it is a “place to archive interviews and current events that deal with conservation and activism.”  The site features a number of pages devoted to topics such as the SeaWorld v. OSHA case discussed in Blackfish, David Kirby (a well-known author and activist) and his book, Death at SeaWorld, the Loro Parque incident discussed in the film, as well as a number of pages discussing or promoting Blackfish itself.  Unsurprisingly, there are no sections of the website to “give a voice” to anyone holding a contrary opinion on the topic (aside, perhaps, from the comments sections (which appear to require permission to post).  Notably, the site also contains a number of links to information about its founders, including:

John Jett
  • An op-ed written by Dr. Jett unequivocally staing that he “considers killer whale captivity grossly unjust,” and challenging zoological parks to justify the practice of “concrete pool imprisonment.”
  • A video of a speech given by Samantha Berg where she, in the first 16 seconds, describes herself as an “anti-captivity activist.”
  • An interview given by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite andJeffrey Ventre to promote Blackfish, in which Mr. Ventre makes clear his personal belief that “Killer whales shouldn’t be in captivity, nor should cetaceans in general or anything that’s a free-ranging animal.”  In this same interview, he all but adopts the radical agenda presented in the Tilikum lawsuit, stating:

    Jeffrey Ventre
    I think the future is going to be dictated in the court system and by the Nonhuman Rights Project. What I mean by that is, the way we got out of slavery at some point was when the distinction of what a black person was in the United States went from property to a person. So, some of these animals, whether it’s elephants or chimps or cetaceans, have demonstrated self-awareness. They grieve their young. They use tools and language. They have culture. At some point, in a court in the United States, a case is going to be won for a particular animal. And once that happens, it’s going to close the door at least in this country.
    Now, none of this is to suggest that any of these people are bad people or are trying to deceive the public.  Far from it.  I have every reason to believe that each of them is smart, passionate, and participated in this film with what he or she believes to be honorable motives.  But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t biased or that their statements should not be considered with their activist agenda in mind.  And it certainly doesn't mean that Blackfish is a work of journalism and not advocacy. 
     The Scientists

But, of course, the ex-trainers are not the only cast members in Blackfish.  Ms. Cowperthwaite also features interviews with bona fide scientists, including a neuroscientist, Dr. Lori Marino, and an orca researcher, Howard Garrett.  Surely, scientists don’t carry the same potential activist bias that the ex-trainers do, right?  Well…

Howard Garrett
We don’t need to look much further than the Tilikum complaint to fill in a few relevant blanks with respect to Howard Garrett.  He was also a named plaintiff in that slavery lawsuit, and the complaint filed on his behalf states that he has “advocated on behalf of orcas and other marine mammals for thirty years, including advocating for the release of captive orcas,” and, among other credentials, “co-founded the Orca Network, a Washington State-based non-profit organization, to raise awareness of the orcas of the Pacific Northwest.  It would seem pretty difficult to question Mr. Garrett’s knowledge in the field of orcas, but it is equally difficult to see him as objective when it comes to this field.

Dr. Lori Marino
Which, finally, brings us to Dr. Marino – a researcher merely described in  Blackfish as a neuroscientist.  With all due respect to Dr. Marino’s impressive academic credentials, calling her just a neuroscientist is like calling Barack Obama just a law professor.  It’s technically true, but really fails to capture who she is.  So who is Lori Marino?  Well, first lets turn back to that SeaWorld-slavery lawsuit.  No, Dr. Marino was not a plaintiff like Samantha Berg and Howard Garett.  But she may well have been involved.  See, a group called the Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights was permitted by the Court to intervene on behalf of the killer whales in that case.  The Center for Fundamental Rights is now known as The Nonhuman Rights Project, the same organization Mr. Ventre referenced in the quote above.  It describes itself as “the only organization working toward actual LEGAL rights for members of species other than our own.”  In short, the Nonhuman Rights Project is working to achieve exactly what PETA, Mr. Garrett, Ms. Ray, and Ms. Berg were trying to achieve in accusing SeaWorld of slavery and involuntary servitude.  And, guess who its Science Director is?  Yep.  Dr. Lori Marino.  

But that’s not all.  Dr. Marino is also the founder and Executive Director of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, Inc, “the only organization focusing exclusively on bridging the gap between academic research and sholoarship and on-the-ground animal advocacy efforts.”  The Kimmela Center’s website embraces the term “scholar-advocate” defined as “a new professional model for animal advocacy based on scholarship that is solutions driven and applied to real-world problems.”  So, yes, Dr. Marino is a neuroscientist, but she is also arguably the nation’s foremost “scholar-advocate” working against animal captivity while urging the recognition of Constitutional rights for non-humans.  And, while significant to the jury's deliberations in the Court of Public Opinion, none of this was, of course, mentioned in Blackfish.

Of course, there are others in Blackfish, but this piece has already gone on long enough and this covers the major players in the film.  But remember, my point is not that any of these people are lying (although I think one of them probably is – and I will prove it in an upcoming piece), but only that their background demonstrates a clear agenda that belies Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s insistence that her film “is not at all advocating for anything” and that she “truly believe[s] that [she] err[ed] on the side of the journalistic approach, not the advocacy approach.”   

Blackfish does not shy away from suggesting that SeaWorld has a strong profit motive to “spin” the truth about its whales and their trainers.  But I would suggest that it is just as possible that the leading players in Blackfish may have an equally strong motive to “spin” the truth about their experiences and the experiences of the whales.  Money is a powerful motive, and we would be foolish to discount it in assessing the credibility of SeaWorld or any other party, but strongly held principles and fundamental beliefs often are more powerful motives than money.  And activists like Samantha Berg, John Jett, Jeffrey Ventre, Howard Garrett, and Lori Marino have a wealth of both that Blackfish’s audience never knew anything about.  

Until we meet again for Part 2....  


  1. What is your point? That people are advocating for the animals? How is that a bad thing? Blackfish is a documentary, not a journalistic piece, and the producer has stated many times that SeaWorld refused all requests for dialog and information. SeaWorld continues to refuse to appear with anyone from the film, most notably when asked to appear on CNN on Crossfire. Conservative pundit Newt Gingrich commented that SeaWorld should show transparency, and show up.

    1. If that's a documentary then I'm the Pope.

    2. and I am the Popes wife this is what I would call a "shockmentary"

    3. You can't call it a documentary when it's an ad presenting and advocating just one side. That's all. The point is, it just shouldn't have been presented as a documentary.

    4. In my opinion, and this is just my opinion, if SeaWorld would have been part of this so called "documentary", the producers would have used everything SeaWorld would have said and twisted it to say what they didn't. Just like politicians. You take something out of context and it sounds like just the opposite of what the person said. Glad SeaWorld didn't play their game.

  2. So, the first premise of your "analysis" of blackfish is that, since clearly the the former trainers and scientists featured in the documentary are part of the nefarious underworld of animal rights, they must be lying or at least can't be trusted to present the case for mistreatment and return. Bias? Really? Yes, where are the animal haters? Where is the "other side"? The side that the animals should eat the trainers. Babies should be ripped from their mothers. Come on - where is the fairness? No ad hominem argument there . . . So . . . clearly, since the "agenda" of these people is the desire to release the orcas to their natural environment, they must be lying or biased. About what exactly? About the fact that SeaWorld has had trouble with orcas attacking employees since the early 1970s and Anne Eckis? (I don't even think that was part of the documentary.) About the injuries incurred by the orcas, including death, by being in kept captivity? About the fact that babies are ripped from their mothers? Shall we go on? There is so much more, but let's wait until part 2. Very disappointing that the first "argument" in the "court of public opinion" is presented by an admitted theme park advocate and presented in such a fallacious manner. (Anyone trying to get further speaking engagements for the amusement industry meetings and seminars?)

    1. ripping babies from mothers?? what?? you are on the wrong site.. get on over to an anti choice place.. oh wait I see you mean cows and calves .. the proper term for whales and their offspring.. but heck no one here is trying to be emotional right?/

    2. "oh wait I see you mean cows and calves .. the proper term for whales and their offspring.. but heck no one here is trying to be emotional right?"

      For those that are not as well informed, or whom are posting through the prism of emotionality opposed to that o fknowledge, the marine mammal biologists that study these animals daily DO IN FACT refer to the family bonds with the same familial terms we do - mothers, sons, daughters, granddaughters, grandmothers, etcetera.

    3. My mom is a marine mammal trainer and let me tell you, the mammals can leave whenever they want. They are not stuck in the training facility, however they enjoy returning to the facility. Blackfish is a load of bull.

  3. What is never considered when someone sympathetic to SeaWorld writes a negative review or commentary on Blackfish because it is skewed toward the anti-cap side is that the director - and in the case of "Death at SeaWorld," the author - didn't start out biased. Neither of them were anti-captivity activists when Dawn Brancheau died. Really - they'd never given the issue of captive orcas a thought. They came to agree with the anti-cap side by investigating the facts, the opinions, the views, and the history of the issue. Not to mention the fact that SeaWorld would not speak with them.

    Using your analogy, Gabriela Cowperthwaite listened to the pro-cap testimony her whole life - she happily took her kids to SeaWorld. SeaWorld's testimony was certainly very biased - yet she listened to it without complaint. Then she listened to the anti-cap testimony when she started making the film. And the conclusion she drew was that captivity for orcas was wrong. She and David Kirby were PART of the court of public opinion - that's the bit you don't get.

    SeaWorld had the stand for 45 years. The anti-cap side at best got a few words in any media articles covering the topic of captive orcas - they were consigned to the margins. The pro-caps had the ear of Congress, the mainstream media, educators, and the general public - SeaWorld testified without interruption or hindrance or anyone crying "point of order."

    The anti-caps were out there trying to inform Congress et al. about their arguments, the science (there is science supporting the view that captivity is harmful to orca welfare, including Small and DeMaster 1995 and Patterson et al. 2013, to be reported at the 20th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in December), the trainer injuries, and so on, but they were very much drowned out by SeaWorld's rhetoric/marketing. Now, because of a tragic event, the anti-caps have finally gotten their turn on the stand, and the pro-caps cry foul.

    I can't wait for Part 2 of your...analysis.

    1. 1. Don't try to make Gabriela into a reformed champion of Orcas just because a death at a park gave her a change of heart. It was maximizing the moment to her advantage by feeding off the media blowout over the situation and making one of the worst and most one-sided excuse for a "documentary" ever. And Dawn's family has even said if she knew that this was going on in her name, she would be sick and would immediately come out and speak against it. She loved those whales and the whales loved her, believe it or not. It's mutual for these animals and trainers, not one-sided.
      2. And actually, the "captivity is harmful to Orca welfare" thing is completely inaccurate as there is no evidence of their welfare being worse in captivity, especially at SeaWorld, compared to living in the wild. Their lifespan is about 30 in the wild and in captivity and SeaWorld has one whale close to 50. Saying SeaWorld has had the stand for 45 years and it's time for someone to do something about it is a ridiculous position. Read up on what happened to Keiko, the whale from Free Willy who was actually released into the wild. Would it be worth it in the end to release them to meet the same fate or help educate the general public, even those as clueless as yourself, about how amazing these animals actually are and why they should be helped and why SeaWorld has such a big conservation effort for ALL animals.
      3. Also, with the exception of 2 whales from decades ago, none of the whales at SeaWorld were taken from the wild. And the whale this "documentary" follows was not originally from a SeaWorld park. After the park Tilikum was from went under, SeaWorld took him in to give him a home, and a better one than he'd had at that. I'm not saying all parks/zoos/whatever with whales are a great environment, but SeaWorld is definitely not the enemy.
      Using this documentary as your research instead of doing enough of your own is ridiculous. And research as in not just finding pieces that advocate for your side - surprisingly in much the same way this documentary failed in doing. SeaWorld has helped SO many animals, over 22,000, and trying to push this documentary along as fact and going against SeaWorld like it's some kind of evil group is ridiculous. ALSO, the fact that many of these people side with PETA is frightening. Do research on PETA as well and see how helpful they actually are to animals and if it's worth backing up and believing people who are as unhelpful as PETA are with animal safety and conservation.

    2. It's interesting how everyone advocating against Blackfish is anonymous...

  4. Candace - advocating is not a bad thing. As stated in the prologue, the point of this series is simply to rebut the assertion by the director of Blackfish, that she has made repeatedly in the media, that her film is an objective piece of journalism and is specifically not an advocacy piece. I don't think that is true, for the reasons I've stated. If the piece or the director had been more forthcoming about the activist bent of its cast, for example, I doubt I would have put pen to paper (so to speak) at all. There's absolutely nothing wrong about making an activist documentary with a message, just be honest about what you are doing because otherwise you leave the viewing audience with a misconception that you are presenting all the facts.

    R.- I accuse no one of lying - at least not in this piece. I simply point out that there is a undeniable bias to the people interviewed in the film. I seriously doubt any of the people discussed above would deny that they are strongly biased against captivity - most of them already have through their past work. The repeated premise of Blackfish is that SeaWorld has a profit motive to cover up the truth. I simply argue that the reverse should also be considered - that a person with strong feelings about animal captivity may also have a strong motive to "spin" their story to persuade the public.

    And, yes, I am an admittedly biased advocate. I admit that. But I'm not on anyone's dime here and don't speak for anyone in the industry. While I respectfully disagree that anything I've said in this piece is fallacious or inaccurate in any way, if there is a factual error, please let me know and I will be happy to correct it.

    1. Well, as with Candice, I am confused as to what your point is. Let's say you are right (although with all due respect I don't believe you are). Blackfish is a advocacy piece. So what. Does that change the circumstances of Tilikum's capture or years of confinement. Does it change numerous orcas that have died in captivity, transport or capture? Does it bring back to life the dead trainers or park visitor that have happened over the years, not to mention the numerous injuries? Does it erase the documented whale on whale violence and bullying that has and continues to go on? Does it reunite mothers and their offspring? What are you advocating for? Where is the "bias"? These are the facts. If there is a side to this that makes all of this OK, you can have it. By the way, attacking the presenters as "biased" and liars (to which you will prove in your next piece) to discredit the piece is on its face ad hominem.

    2. "the point of this series is simply to rebut the assertion by the director of Blackfish, that she has made repeatedly in the media, that her film is an objective piece of journalism and is specifically not an advocacy piece."

      OK fine - let's agree; she erred in branding or couching her film... It should have been labled more as an activist piece or a reflection of a personal agenda.

      You win - you're right. And her "cast members" are indeed biased...


      Where does that leave us? Were the former trainers (and/or the film as a whole) wrong in showcasing that:
      --Tilikum killed Keltie
      --Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau
      --Orcas have a shorter life span in captivity than in the wild
      --Killer whales demonstrate abnormal agression in captivity which at times has resulted in orca deaths
      --Whales are exposed to abnormal and damaging living condtions such as concrete walls, steel gates, and grossly inadequate space
      --Orcas have died in the initial collection process, and these deaths were actively covered up
      --A trainer death occured in Loro Parque
      --A trainer was actually FILMED while repeatedly being submerged by a whale, and taken near death
      --A trainer was actually FILMED while being grabbed by the arm and pulled in, resulting in compound fractures
      --A trainer was actually FILMED while whale breached and landed on him
      --Daughters and sons of mother whales were taken from their mothers in a quasi-permanent sense (sons and daughters that in the natural environment choose to stay with their mother for a lifetime)

      I suppose I could go on...

      Which of these "facts" are not "facts" due to stemming from a reportedly (by you) unreliable source?

      Discrediting Cowperwaite's sources or attacking her methods does not in ANY way lessen, minimalize, or otherwise rationalize the atrocities and tragedies that result from holding these animals captive.

      But I suppose THAT doesn't matter. You're not here to debate the facts, as you admittedly are not well enough equipped. You're only here to suggest and highlight potential bias.

      But you know what...?

      You betray your OWN biases in doing so. And your blog erroneously (perhaps grossly so) and unequivocally equates bias with deception and inaccuracy, when - in fact - bias alone does not...

  5. And you make the point quite well that the rules established for proceeding in a court of law are different from the rules in the court of public opinion. It would be a red herring to suggest otherwise.

  6. Dr. Rose - I appreciate your comment. I do understand that Gabriela Cowperthwaite did not go into this project as an activist. I have never stated otherwise. I also understand that she reached the conclusion after doing all her interviews that keeping orcas in captivity is wrong. That's the entire point of my writing. For me, this is not about being "pro-cap" or "anti-cap." I'm not arguing that orca captivity is either good or bad, and I'm not arguing that there isn't science to support your position. That's not my job or my point. My point is simply that the director should be honest with her audience and not try to convince it that "the film is not at all advocating for anything." Since she has presented herself as "erring on the side of the journalistic approach," I think its fair to test that statement against the finished product.

    1. Of course SeaWorld has been dishonest for years, claiming its information is factual and educational when in fact it is at best misleading and at worst simply dishonest. It has claimed all along that its "testimony" (to stick to your analogy) is unbiased and science-based, when in fact it is self-interested and often inaccurate (killer whale life spans is the best case in point - the only place these data are still controversial is within corporate SeaWorld). I hope you will address this even-handedly in Part 2.

    2. But Naomi, you have selectively cited the literature to make your point. What about the comparable life spans of bottlenose dolphins in captivity and in the wild from former president of the Marine Mammal Society Dr. Randy Wells who also conducts one of the largest wild marine mammal research projects in the world and is employed by the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Or the work of Amy Samuels who was both a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a scientist focused on captive welfare. Her work showed that behaviors of dolphins in the wild were surprisingly similar to those of animals in zoos.

      I've seen your ideas of animal activism mixed with science and you have not convinced me that the two can exist peacefully. Science is a process that encourages an open mind in its practitioners. Activism requires an open mind of those you want to sway but a closed mind in those that do the swaying. Even your covert YouTube videos where you seek into Sea World with hidden cameras show an anthropomorphic bias unimpeded by data.

  7. Most of what is presented in Blackfish is backed up by court testimony, coroner's reports and as Naomi noted above scientific papers. Attached is a link to a peer-reviewed scientific journal paper that outlines the case re: killer whales killing trainers in http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/cog/tme/2012/00000008/00000003/art00004 Basically I thought the director did a good job at keeping to the facts of the case (at least as facts can be ascertained by witness testemony, but then again that's how our legal system works).

  8. Erik, I find it odd that anyone, after viewing the science, would describe non-human personhood rights (legal status) for cetaceans a "radical" idea. Although, I'd bet you're in favor of "human personhood" for corporations, probably voted for Mitt Romney, and may think our Supreme Court is dandy. In general, maybe it should be considered an honor to be featured in a "smear the messenger" piece; an indicator that Blackfish is having an impact. Thanks for suggesting that I'm not necessarily a bad person. And if taking action makes me an activist, then guilty as charged. Yes, my position is that keeping killer whales in concrete enclosures for profit is morally wrong and unjust. That's based upon direct observations of both captive & wild animals. I don't think you've ever seen a wild killer whale; just a hunch. If you'd like to see that, I'd be happy to host you on such an adventure in WA state next July, or maybe you prefer roller coasters & circus food.

    1. JV, I voted for Mitt Romney. I would even be considered a tea party supporter, and yet I don't like what I saw with regards to the treatment of the orcas, to the point of feeling the need to answer this smear piece. Notwithstanding, I don't think that the interjection of politics furthers your cause. (There are plenty of conservatives that support humane treatment of animals in captivity.) In fact, it makes me wonder if Eric may be right about the advocacy angle of his argument (I still think it doesn't matter). Attacking Eric for who you think he voted for makes you as bad as him in terms of furthering this discussion. (Rollercoasters and circus food is funny though)

    2. Thx RJ // Points well taken. Best, jv

  9. First, I'd like to say you have definitely figured out how to use controversy to boost your legal blogging efforts. Comes directly from the legal PR handbook. Well done.

    While it is normal for industry to brand anyone who speaks out an "activist" (often in a derogatory way), the ex-trainers who speak out in the movie are actually Whistleblowers. While they may now be active in a cause, they started as Whistleblowers in a industry that has been less than transparent.

    Once they spoke out, they realized they could remain silent no more. The director just happened to be there to hear the story--once the veil of silence and secrecy was lifted.

    SeaWorld and the industry in general has controlled the narrative, the branding, the messaging surrounding cetacean captivity for decades. They have also aggressively bullied anyone who told a different story. Blackfish is now a counter narrative to the false story that has been created.

    SeaWorld's tale has been a biased, industry activist story that has misled the public, misled a court of law (regarding their connection to Loro Parque) and has a "questionable at best" animal husbandry record. Shouldn't their credibility be questioned? That's what Blackfish did… and, I hope you address that in Part 2.

    1. 1.) These ex-trainers you call Whistleblowers... Do you know why they are all ex-trainers instead of trainers? Actually, several of these "Whistleblowers" have been fired from SeaWorld. I can only conclude that these said ex-trainers are now "Whistleblowers" because they are bitter- in my opinion. (Wouldn't you be bitter if you were fired? It is human nature.) But, please, look into why these ex-trainers are actually EX-trainers.

      2.) In regards to this comment, "[SeaWorld] ha[s] also aggressively bullied anyone who told a different story. Blackfish is now a counter narrative to the false story that has been created."

      I would like to see proof of this "bullying." Additionally, do you work at SeaWorld? Do you know for a FACT that the narrative SeaWorld is telling is false? What about their conservation efforts? Veterinary care? What confirms this false narrative you speak of? Facts please.

      3.) In regards to Loro Parque.... Have you read the court transcripts of the case? I have. In fact, the woman speaking about Loro Parque during the hearing never denies the connection with SeaWorld. In fact, the film is outright lying during this portion. I encourage you to read the court transcripts.

      4.) Are you an animal behaviorist/trainer? What do you consider to be "questionable at best animal husbandry record(s)?" I am curious, truthfully. Additionally, I am curious where you were able to read the animal husbandry records in the first place; I would enjoy reading these as well. Detailed accounts of training and husbandry practices over years and years with the whales would be enlightening and incredible to read.

  10. this is actually quite entertaining. thank you for the post. i've been following the issues for a while, and am rarely inspired to comment. though i grant you that it appears the film maker may have had a bias, if you speak with her directly or watch any interview she's done, she states otherwise. and all we can do is take her at her word: she is simply someone who was presented with evidence she could not ignore. and, either way, so what? as another commenter has posted - it does not negate the truths that are told. as for your assertions that former trainers who now hove an anti-captivity bias can not tell there stories without bias - seriously? their stories are their stories. like it or not, they have unique experiences and people want to hear their truths. these are folks who have moved on with their lives, have not surrounded themselves until recently in activist causes, and who have done nothing more than tell their stories. what is done with those stories, is done with them and if it helps to further a cause, so be it. it does not make them untrue. i challenge you to find any bit of activism sam berg, carol ray, jeff ventre or john jett have been involved in prior to 2010. sorry, but they were busy carrying on with their lives, and were ultimately inspired by injustices to dawn's (and orcas they worked with) memory and were compelled to speak out. if you think somehow that adding the commentary of industry 'experts' or people whose lives/livelihoods are intricately intertwined in the industry would provide 'objectivity' you're sorely mistaken. they've been telling their piece for years, and now we finally have people telling the truth. it is the the time away from the industry and the reflection, and the unique experiences they individually had that gives these characters more credibility than listening to the mouth pieces we have heard for decades who espouse the importance of keeping these animals captive for performances to entertain humans. really, the 'attack the messenger' is pretty old school - you might want to freshen up your approach.

    1. did any of them get paid to participate in the film? If so, could that have been a part of their "inspiration? Has the director made any money from Blackfish. Just curious as most of the comments here seem to think that Seaworld has a "profit motivation" while the participants in this film have nothing but altruistic motives.

  11. My question.. did you actually watch the film? She presents every one of the former trainers as blatantly activists by showing them on cable news networks - as talking heads from when they did appearances on the subject of whale captivity. They have a different demeanor than they do when talking in the film itself and she shows it for what it is. It's one of the final segments of the film for the purpose of making you question/consider everything you just heard from these people.

    She DID exactly what you are claiming to do here.

  12. Okay, I'd really, really like to know what the "veil of secrecy" is?

    -That Seaworld makes money? one way of which is by having whales and dolphins perform for audiences.
    OK. They do. the secret is out. it's a for profit company. They make money. You need money to take care of animals. Pay for the people to take care of them. People to clean the park. etc. Is that a terrible thing?

    -That killer whales are big dangerous animals that can hurt people?
    No shit. So are elephants.As are Lions.And most dog breeds. So are horses. You know how many people are killed by horses every year? (~200 in case you were wondering) Where is the "documentary" condemning the race horse industry? And ANY trainer that claims they did not know you could get hurt working with killer whales is, I am sorry, an idiot.

    -That killer whales are very intelligent animals and should not be in captivity, and thus should be released into the wild?
    Yeah, they are incredibly intelligent animals for what they are. A marine predator. These animals know the lives they have. They know their routines, their companions, their trainers. They are not wild animals, wild animals in the sense that they've never learned the skills to survive in the wild. They would most assuredly die.
    So lets abduct them from the lives they know, plop them in the ocean and wish them luck. Anyone remember Keiko aka "Free Willy"? And we would do this cause its right? Who said it's right? A couple of "experts" and "ex-trainers"?
    How arrogant

    I'm not going to say Seaworld is perfect, they could do alot of things better. We all could.

    I apologize for the long rant, but back to the point at hand, when a movie comes out saying it's a documentary that is fair, balanced and that it promises you all the facts, Then really just shows you a lot of sensational footage, interviews a bunch of so-called "experts" and ex-trainers with an ax to grind. I was left confused and frustrated. Where was the rebuttal? Evidence? They certainly did not win their case with me, as it unfortunately, appears they have with many others.

    1. I appreciate your facts about the death toll in horse training. Two hundred deaths PER YEAR is magnanimous comparatively to the few deaths recorded in SEAWORLD HISTORY. It is a no brainer for me; I am definitely pro SeaWorld.

    2. Out of all the comments I've read... I like yours best. Seaworld is in the wrong in a lot of places, but everyone is going to make mistakes. There is no one perfect way. As you said, MANY animals are dangerous, yet we interact with them daily. I also agree that taking an animal raised in captivity and plopping them in the ocean would be cruel. In fact, it would most likely be fatal to the animal.

    3. "So are horses. You know how many people are killed by horses every year? (~200 in case you were wondering)"

      I applaud your effort...

      But since this entire blog orbits around the concept of accurately reported facts versus information tainted by bias, lets be a bit more "real" with our numbers please.

      ~45 orcas in captivity worldwide. 45...

      How many horses in captivity worldwide? I'm not sure myself, but I think its more than 45.

      When you can tell me what PERCENTAGE 200 is of the total number for horses, I'll listen to your argument a bit closer.

    4. I'm sorry, but you're asking for a statistically significant figure to be compared to one which does not have sufficient population to be statistically significant.
      I don't applaud your effort.

  13. "The Tillikum lawsuit was pretty remarkable for the extreme position it advanced – namely that SeaWorld was violating the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on slavery and involuntary servitude by holding killer whales in captivity." ok well that's all I need to hear. Those people are whacked. If I was Sea World, I wouldn't talk either. I 'd just wait for the other side to be heard. Thank you.

  14. If any of the players in this "documentary" are paid advocates then would that then make them individuals motivated by greed and profit in the same way they accuse seaworld of? Many advocates for animal rights organizations are paid either directly for their services or through substantial donations to their various causes and organizations. The legal case of Tom Rider in the original suit brought against Ringling Brothers by various animal rights groups which now find themselves on the receiving end of a pretty serious RICO Suit is a good example. They claimed he was a traumatized witness and then it was proven he was paid and financially supported by said animal rights groups for years. This film was too biased and in the end it demeans animal welfare movements with the use or propaganda much like the boy who cried wolf, eventually there will be no credibility for any movement to help animals. Large animal rights groups and their media/celebrity allies have devoured real animal welfare movements in cash grab to divert donations to their coffers, much of which is wasted on lawyers, PR campaigns etc, not actually physically helping a single animal.

  15. The ex-trainers are just that..ex-trainers. They were all fired for not following safety guidelines. One of them was fired for putting his head in a whales mouth. Also, another female trainer has lied her way into every production she has worked on to further her career. Just because they are ex-trainers doesn't mean that their story will not be skewed. There may be some truth but because they are disgruntled their opinions are easily swayed. All the sides should be shown. How many animals has PETA saved?
    What about the television show Mustang Millionaires?


    They get a prize of a million dollars to "break" a wild horse for entertainment. Why not go after them or the channel that airs it? Because there wasn't a movie about it? How many animals did they save? What are their rescue, rehabilitation, and conservation procedures? Hypocrites, arm chair activists, click-tavists..cowards.

    1. Now you're comparing gentling a horse to captive Orca? Mustang Millionaire is a competition for who can best train a wild mustang in 120 days. They are not "broke". That term and method is long gone, just as keeping Orca in tanks ought to be. The horse is then auctioned to the highest bidder. I quote "The competition is designed to encourage people to adopt the wild horses. These horses are federally protected, but to prevent overpopulation, the federal government rounds up thousands, puts them in captivity and then tries to place the horses in private homes. " Tell me again exactly how this compares?
      I don't care if every member of the Blackfish cast is a raving lunatic. The point is that is wrong to keep Orca captive, in little swimming pools. If you have never seen Orca in the wild, you don't understand. The current "trainers" that are speaking out have never seen them either. They are not marine biologists. They are people that swim well, are personable, and know how to repeat exactly what Seaworld tells them to say. The "trainer" requirements have just recently changed.
      Male Orca in the wild stay with their mother for their entire life. They have a 6 foot dorsal fin that stands straight up. Seaworld would like you to think that it's a common occurance in the wild, for the dorsal fin to flop to one side. That is not true. It is rare. I have seen about 100 killer whales in the wild. I have never seen one with a flopped dorsal fin. The experts say that it's a sign of depression. Seaworld keeps their whales on antidepressant meds. Were you aware of that? Why do you suppose they would need them if they are thrilled to be there?
      I'll tell you a story. There was a young male Orca that the U.S. government captured, and trained back in the 60's, along with many dolphins. They transferred their project to Hawaii. The Orca went along. They had him trained to follow a small boat, dive, and retrieve objects. They thought all was well, until they gave him the option to think for himself. They took him out in open water. They asked him to do a few retrievals. He did. They asked again. He looked at them, turned, and swam away. Period. Didn't come back. End of project.

      Tell me how happy these whales are in concrete tanks? They are as smart as humans. Would you be happy? Quit with the ridiculous excuses. What matters is the whales.

  16. I've really enjoyed these pieces and couldn't agree with you more about how misleading Blackfish is. At the end of the day people are going to say whatever they can to convince you that capitvity is ok or not ok. Each group will have their own spin. Each group will accuse the other of being misleading. I feel Blackfish could have done a better job with both sides, but, as an activist film, of course they stay focused on their message. I have no issue with animals in captivity - zoos, seaworld, etc. and I believe it's a way to inspire people to care more about animals and get to know them better. I don't believe SeaWorld abuses or neglects their animals - and why would they if they are the stars of the show? I say, let recognize the 20 killer whales in capitivity are being well taken care of (most have been born there) and focus on making sure the environment of the animals in the wild are protected.

    1. As these comments continue- one must really decide on what is truth and what is not. The truth is: elephants, orangutans and rhinos are dying at record rates in Africa and Asia. And these species are only three of thousands. Who are the ones killing them- humans. The animal activists should take their money (and they make lots) and use it to stop poaching. Protest against corrupt governments. Be constructive instead of destructive. This would be a better approach to saving animal species instead of boycotting a company that spends millions of dollars around the world to fund projects that help animals. We, as a species, are only consumers. We take and take without thinking of the future. Many animal species from the largest to the smallest will not be around for our children's children to observe and learn about except in a textbook or on the web. Many will not be around into the next decade unless we stop this inhumane killing of iconic animals. Those that are defending the activists should take a look at themselves and ask- how can I really make a difference to help conserve the earth? This is from the natural resources to animals. I challenge all of those ex-trainers, PETA, HSUS, and any musician that pulled out of the event at SeaWorld to donate their money and again, they have lots, to a conservation fund. There are several in the United States and many worldwide. To name a few: Wildlife Alliance, APRCO, CCF, WWF, SWBGCF, The Nature Conservancy.

  17. *It's
    When you call someone a moron, you should use spell check.

  18. I'm glad that so far my caged birds have not been targeted by these nuts, as of course a canary in the wild is free to fly over many miles. If it were up to the Humaniacs, I wouldn't be able to keep a canary in a cage in my home.
    I'm just as sure, however, that it's just a matter of time. First they go after the bigger, more visible targets, like Ringling Brothers and Sea World. Eventually, they will move on to targets more difficult to directly attack without precedent, like keeping animals as pets or keeping domestic farm animals.

    1. Ringling Brothers has been fined multiple times for animal cruelty. Great example.

    2. well ur a canary slave master. congratulations.how can u claim to care for a living life....but apply a double standard that if applied to you would not be ok. huh? what is wrong with your brain that is does not work?

  19. Also, the fact that these so-called "trainers" were former employees doesn't necessarily lend them any credibility in my mind. Animal rights groups have been known to purposely apply for jobs and infiltrate the ranks of various animal industries in order to gather information and manufacture crises in attempts to discredit them. This exact thing happened in the so-called "expose" of the downed cow at the Chino meat company. The guy was a plant!

  20. Mr. Beard - I just wanted to say thank you for this. I work in the zoo and aquarium industry, and while I am not affiliated with SeaWorld, what affects one facility affects us all. Normally, I am very open and willing to discuss what I do for a living, the animals I work with, and the reasons for what I do. This ability to reach out and educate people about these animals, to raise awareness for issues affecting them in the wild, is an enormous passion for myself and many others in my industry. I welcome people to express different opinions, to question, and to be concerned. Having these conversations is good for everyone involved, and these discussions not only allow us to raise awareness of conservation issues as well as discuss what standards are currently in place, it helps us as an industry constantly evolve standards of care. This movie has brought with it a frustrating deluge of negative attention and impassioned disapproval for what everyone I work with strives for. I appreciate you are not a person directly affiliated with SW or another marine park, and that you are a lawyer, not a behaviorist, ecologist, or other scientist involved in the animal field. This movie has blindsided all of us and left us nearly powerless to refute its sayings or even express our personal or professional opinions. The general population, as I have even seen on your comments here, jump to the conclusion that if you have issue with the film, you are either employed by SeaWorld, or are advocating for animal cruelty. The movie was sensationalized, and highly successful in its use of emotion to engage and sway its audience. Because it is billed as a documentary, people are seemingly unwilling to believe it may be anything other than fact. Beyond that, they feel because the film does not feature face time from SeaWorld, the conclusion is drawn that SeaWorld must be guilty of everything presented in the film. This alone frustrates me, because the majority of the people who are now staunchly defending this film without otherwise having experience in this field refuse to believe anything SW has said before or since (and they have now released official comments on their website, also quoted elsewhere on the web. See the "8 Assertations" they released for a start). By extension, and I have personally encountered this numerous times, if I or anyone else disagree or attempt to argue another side than presented in the film, I am told I need to "do my research and watch the film". The public has thereby taken the film with such support that it has replaced personal experience, research, and even arguments like yours into the bias of the individuals involved in the film, with the irrefutable "proof" that is the film itself. Without comment as to my opinion of SeaWorld or orcas in captivity, I will say that I appreciate anyone and everyone who is willing to take this "documentary" and give it a critical eye - anyone who is willing to believe there may be more to the story, or that there may be motives at play other than simply "the truth" in this film. Approaching this issue from a legal perspective, I have found your analysis to be incredibly interesting, and I am heartened to find such a thoughtful and well constructed review into some of the questionable elements of the film. I can only hope that as people read your responses, at least some people are able to lower their pitchforks and engage in more meaningful discussion.

  21. Well done articles.. I think you forgot one of the key people responsible for the screenplay and producing the story of Blackfish Tim Zimmerman.. The screenplay is based on a 2010 blog post of his.. (On a side not if you look at the comments, the owner of the pictures he is using on the blog is protesting their use and he refused to remove them.)



  22. either way, there is the principal that I would not accept a habitat of 1% of what is natural, nor would anyone. Then how can it be acceptable for them? or does logic not apply to animals???

  23. I majored in psychology in college. One of the papers (actually a couple) were on political psychology and how opinions are formed. Based on what I learned I am not sure the "scholar-advocate" model is really conducive to good science. It is very hard to remain objective when engaging in both activities at once. Plus, if one was involved in a group like that while conducting research wouldn't there be an incentive to come up with research (eg fudge/misinterpret/misreport/etc data) that supported the groups position.

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  25. If there was more benefit to the practice (e.g. captive breeding, critical scientific research) I could see making an argument in favor of keeping cetaceans in captivity, if done as humanely and safely as possible. However, as it is, the whole system is geared towards profit and entertainment with a thin veneer of education as justification.

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