Skip to content

The Blackfish Effect

By Russell Tenofsky


The documentary movie Blackfish continues to be a public relations and financial nightmare for SeaWorld, and it’s now creating what people have termed the Blackfish Effect.

Eight out of the 10 musical acts scheduled for SeaWorld Orlando’s Bands, Brews and Barbecue Festival have canceled. Fans had launched online petitions, leading to the festival’s headlining acts – Willie Nelson, Barenaked Ladies, Joan Jett, Trisha Yearwood, .38 Special, Heart, REO Speedwagon and Martina McBride – all canceling their scheduled concert dates.

Many of the musicians have been using their social media pages to educate their fans about SeaWorld’s history of oppression and abuse. For Willie Nelson, the decision wasn’t a difficult one. “I don’t agree with the way they treat their animals,” he said. “It wasn’t that hard a deal for me.”

Some musicians and bands, including Joan Jett and Tommy Lee of Motley Crue, have also asked SeaWorld to stop using their music as a soundtrack to the “Shamu Rocks” show.

Joan Jett, whose outspoken views on the mistreatment of farmed animals got her kicked-off of South Dakota’s float at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, wrote a scathing letter to SeaWorld’s president expressing her displeasure:

“SeaWorld’s reliance on cruelty and captivity for commerce has been widely exposed. I hope you’ll take the respectable path and release the captive orcas to coastal sanctuaries so that they can live out their lives with other orcas in nature. This move would show that your company is truly family-friendly.”

SeaWorld’s public relations problems are still growing, and the backlash toward their mistreatment of orcas is moving from the public to the private sector. Following on the heels of the rock stars, a marine science-based high school canceled its annual trip to SeaWorld. Rebecca Johnson, principal of Pt. Dume Marine Science School in Malibu, CA, said:

“My decision was guided by what was the best thing for all my students. I am very proud that the school did the right thing. I hope it’s not just a one-year, knee-jerk reaction. I hope they truly understand how wrong it is that these whales are in captivity, and none of us should be paying money to see that.”

All of this pressure has helped spread the Blackfish Effect to the point that it is now impacting SeaWorld’s commerce. Delaware L.P. Sw, a subsidiary of Blackstone, SeaWorld’s majority stockholder, has sold stock valued at over $500 million dollars.

In an effort to stem the growing tidal wave of negative public relations, SeaWorld took out a full-page ad in several major newspapers across the country. In the ads, they continue to claim that “The killer whales in our care benefit those in the wild,” and that “SeaWorld’s killer whales’ life spans are equivalent with those in the wild,” as well as saying that “We do not separate killer whale moms and calves.”

However, Blackfish director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, told the Los Angeles Times:

“Unfortunately, their statements range from wildly misleading to patently false. I just wish they would evolve past their 40-year-old spin and resolve to work with us toward a better future.”

Despite SeaWorld’s best efforts, the Blackfish Effect will most likely continue to gain momentum because the documentary has just made its streaming debut on Netflix…and Netflix reportedly has over 31 million subscribers.

Sign up to receive the latest updates on our mission

Find out about opportunities to get involved, breaking news in our cases and campaigns, and more.