A Whale’s Tale – SeaWorld & The Humane Economy

Did you hear that tremendous wave of sound reverberating around the planet on Thursday March 17th? You can’t have missed it because I swear it could be heard on the moon! It was the shout of joy from the global band of animal advocates when SeaWorld finally bowed to public pressure and made the momentous announcement that they would no longer breed orcas in captivity.

On that memorable day emails were pinging into my Inbox in rapid succession from different organisations all proclaiming “Victory!” Facebook and Twitter were ablaze. This was an historic moment in animal protection, worthy of celebration. On that same day writing in his blog, Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the US, called it “a game changer for our movement”. The orcas still at SeaWorld will be the last generation to suffer in confinement at their facilities.


HSUS played a prominent role in bringing SeaWorld to this decision, and won other concessions from the company, including one pledge to phase out “shows” featuring the orcas, in favour of exhibits highlighting the animal’s natural behaviours; and another to redouble efforts to rescue and rehabilitate marine creatures, to the tune of $50 million over the next five years.

By engaging in constructive dialogue with SeaWorld, Wayne was able to convince SeaWorld’s CEO Joel Manby, that these steps would be in the commercial interests of the company. Considering all the negative publicity SW had been getting since Death at SeaWorld was published, followed by the global phenomenon that was Blackfish, plus all the pressure from animal advocates, plus the dismal plummet in both ticket sales and the company’s shares, Mr Manby probably didn’t need too much persuading! The stock market proved it was the right move, as SW shares rose almost instantly by 17%, and continue to rise.

Well played, Wayne and HSUS!  The dialogue with SeaWorld illustrates the ‘right-on-the-button-ness’ of HSUS’s strategy, and also demonstrates their vision of the Humane Economy in action.

What is this Humane Economy which Mr Pacelle describes in his book The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers are Transforming the Lives of Animals? Humans are in charge in this world of ours, and can, and often do do, whatever they want with animals. To change this sad state of affairs, HSUS has a very specific strategy, focused not on animals’ rights, but on human responsibility towards animals, and on facilitating social and economic change and corporate reform. Sometimes idealism is simply not enough, and a healthy dash of pragmatism can make all the difference. So HSUS directly engages with the world of commerce to be a catalyst for change in the way economies operate. Putting it in plain english, the way forward is to make our love of animals, our humaneness, profitable. Because as we all know, big business’s bottom line is profit and generous rewards for shareholders. That is the Humane Economy.

We are in a revolutionary moment in terms of our relationship with animals – Wayne Pacelle

If they so chose, HSUS, the biggest and best funded animal charity in the world, could use their considerable resources in the direct rescue of thousands of individual animals, as do many other of the 25,000 animal charities in the States. (Isn’t that extraordinary number, 25,000, a remarkable sign of current levels of concern for our fellow creatures, by the way?) But they don’t do that. If their Humane Economy vision proves the right approach, and it is already showing results, it will see animal lives saved not in thousands, but in their millions, because it will simply be more profitable for businesses to operate humanely.

Here are three areas that exemplify the Humane Economy in action:-

1.Replacing one harmful use of animals with another humane ‘use’

default_WHALELOGOSince whales are the topic of the moment, lets talk whale as an example. Every country in the world with 3 notorious exceptions has thankfully banned whaling and whale products, but today there is money to be made in whale-watching – ecotourism. IFAW’s campaign for whales, Meet Us Don’t Eat Us, is the perfect motto for whale ecotourism in the Humane Economy. We could do with a campaign ‘Meet Us Don’t Shoot Us’ now for the trophy hunters.

2.Technological innovation which eradicates the need to use animals

As, for example Clara Food’s amazing new animal-free egg white which Making Waves Outreach featured earlier this year. And Hampton Creek, the fastest growing food company in the world, whose mission is to change food by eliminating all animal products. Phew, talk about thinking big. What a vision! Bill Gates singled out Hampton Creek as ‘a company shaping the future of food‘.

3. And following on from that the huge growth of interest in plant-based animal-free eating generally

As illustrated by the successful entirely vegan German supermarket chain Veganz, now with its first store in the States. The first of many we hope. And Veganz, PLEASE start opening stores here in the UK! (I’m lucky enough to have local to me the Unicorn, a fabulous vegan grocery store, and I can guarantee that whenever I go it is thronging with shoppers.)

So back to SeaWorld. Mr Manby and his fellow execs at SW really did take on board the business benefits of the Humane Economy.  Understanding the power of public opinion in the marketplace – that public opinion which is increasingly demanding a more humane approach to animals – they enacted a very significant change of policy. They are canny business people. They are fully aware that the payoff for the concessions Mr Pacelle wrung from them is, in effect, HSUS’s endorsement of SeaWorld’s future, which they know will prove worth millions and millions of dollars. Ok, so now the perception of Humane Society supporters and animal-lovers at large will be that HSUS has given them the ethical green light to return to SeaWorld. Visitor figures will rocket. And having made their concessions (while scoring a valuable PR coup for SeaWorld) Mr Manby and co persist in holding on tight to the 30 orcas they still have. They no doubt calculate that their refusal to release them to ocean sanctuaries will not cause a stir with the public – though it has certainly not been lost on animal advocates.

On the plus side, Wayne Pacelle persuaded Joel Manby to join with him in sending a letter to President Obama urging him to pressure Japan to end its whaling activities. The two CEOs are also joining forces on the campaign to end Canada’s seal hunt. Wayne clearly sees great possibilities for animals of having this powerful corporation as an ally rather than an enemy. Pragmatism gets results.


For the time being the promises HSUS extracted from SeaWorld for the orcas has yet to be replicated for the orcas’ smaller cousins, the bottlenose dolphins. The fact that SeaWorld will continue as before with their captive breeding program of dolphins seems to have slipped under the publicity radar.

Just about this time last year, SW San Antonio published a document SeaWorld Unveils Plans for New Dolphin Habitat Opening in 2016. That sounds like good news for the dolphins, doesn’t it? “This project, one of the largest single capital investments in the park’s 27-year history, will include a revolutionary new area for dolphins located in the northern part of the park. These changes will nearly double the size of the park’s dolphin pool” – well that can’t be bad, can it – “and allow guests to experience these amazing mammals in new, more powerful ways.”  What are these ‘new, more powerful ways’? “After their classroom presentation and discussion on dolphins’ natural history and physiology,” – or in my own more cynical words, ‘after a token bit of greenwashing’ – “guests will wade into shallow water and become acquainted with one of these fascinating, intelligent dolphins through close contact during this one-on-one dolphin encounter. Then, taking the adventure one step further, guests can interact with their dolphin in deeper water for an exciting dorsal fin tow ride back to shore” – my underlining. Note too the guileful use of the word ‘habitat’ in the heading. SeaWorld San Antonio can surely not be suggesting their ‘Discovery Cove’ replicates anything approaching a real habitat for an animal that can swim up to 128 kms a day?

Well, those plans were announced a whole year ago. Maybe the project has been shelved in view of the orca story coming to a head? Sorry, no. As yet captive dolphin welfare campaigns seem to have gained insufficient public traction. SeaWorld know full well that swimming with dolphins is still a powerful draw for their paying visitors, genuine animal-lovers who see no reason to query its ethicality.* So as promised, Discovery Cove, San Antonio will be opening its doors in May. “Discovery Cove is a one-of-a kind experience where you can swim with bottlenose dolphins, feed tropical birds, play inches from a family of otters, and even walk on the ocean floor”.  San Antonio is far from the only SW facility – and if ’facility’ sounds like a prison, that’s because it is – where captive dolphins have the dubious privilege of swimming with humans. I do hope Wayne and HSUS have this near the top of their ‘To Do’ list.

‘Mr Dolphin’ himself, Ric O’Barry, is strongly critical of HSUS’s part in this story. His view is that the historic victory we’ve been celebrating is a huge backward step. He sees the payoff SeaWorld obtained as of more value to that corporation, than the win for the orcas is to us animal advocates, and more importantly to captive animals themselves. You may be interested in reading his piece, though I think Wayne has dealt effectively with many of Ric’s criticisms in his most recent blog post – most definitely worth reading for more detail on the new partnership with SeaWorld.

Were the animals victorious in this match, or did HSUS score an own goal? Is the Humane Economy the right strategy, or is it ultimately going to fail the animals?

You decide. For myself I am very hopeful.

One thing is sure, there remains much to be done, so I hope there is still plenty of fire in your belly Mr Pacelle. It would be my dream come true to see a truly humane economy, and the Animal Revolution come about before it’s my turn to push up the daisies.


*For more on swimming with dolphins Click here

If you’d like to know more about the Humane Economy and HSUS’s mission Mr Pacelle explains here:-



April 19th 2016

This will be an ever-evolving story. There are three SeaWorld parks in the USA and others around the world. Just this week (April 19th) the San Diego Union Tribune published the news that SeaWorld San Diego has withdrawn plans submitted to the California Coastal Commission for an orca tank enlargement. The commission approved the plans but imposed the condition that SeaWorld end all breeding of killer whales at the park. SeaWorld responded with a legal challenge to the condition – now also withdrawn.

“SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby has spoken frankly about how he agonized over the breeding ban decision but said he ultimately realized that changing public attitudes about the welfare of the whales were keeping people from coming to the marine parks.”

April 30th 2016

At a press conference held Wednesday in San Diego, Jean-Michel Cousteau, oceanographic explorer and president of the Ocean Futures Society, urged SeaWorld to free its current population of captive orcas.

“They need to be released and put back into a place where we can keep an eye on them and they can reconnect with nature,” Cousteau, who is the son of legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, said.

ecowatch logo EW by Lorraine Chow and reposted with permission from EcoWatch

Read more

May 14th 2016 

New sea sanctuary  built by Steve Dunn, CEO of toy company Munchkin, in partnership with The Whale Sanctuary Project. The sanctuary will house whales and dolphins retired from aquariums and theme parks in a sectioned off area of the ocean. The animals would be able to live in as natural an environment as possible without being completely free since many have lived in captivity their whole lives and wouldn’t survive in the wild. An engineered structure that resembles nets will surround the space, giving animals a large area to move around “that dwarfs even the largest tank in existence,” explains The Whale Sanctuary Project’s president Dr. Lori Marino, PhD.

June 21st 2016 Legislators approved the California Orca Protection Act, making it illegal to keep orcas in captivity for “display, performance, or entertainment purposes”, to breed them, or sell or move them except under certain conditions.

June 29th 2016 The SeaWorld Deal to End Captive Breeding is just the Start A profound shift is under way in corporate attitudes toward the treatment of animals. Wayne Nacelle in TakePart



10 thoughts on “A Whale’s Tale – SeaWorld & The Humane Economy

  1. Reblogged this on owl machine and commented:
    The take-down of Sea World is a cause very near to our hearts (three owns a BOYCOTT SEAWORLD long-sleeve tee which she wears in public too often). As children we used to visit Sea World almost every year, because we, like everyone else it seems, were enchanted with the beauty of the whales, dolphins, and other creatures we saw there. Like everyone else, we had to be taught better. Humanity is drawn to these animals, and we suppose it is ‘natural’ to want to contain them and view them at all times – this is why people comment on videos of wild animals saying things like “I want one” and “literally getting one of these as a pet”. No. No. No. It is possible to love something without trapping and abusing it for life, and this is what all animal lovers need to strive for.

    Sea World ending its breeding program is a big victory, but there’s a lot of work to be done. If you don’t follow Animalista Untamed, we recommend you do, if you are interested in learning more.

    Liked by 1 person

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