It is with sadness that we learned of the deaths of a beluga whale named Nanuq and a bottlenose dolphin (we believe Jenson) housed at SeaWorld Orlando. Nanuq, an estimated 31-year-old beluga whale, died February 19 after battling an infection sustained from a fractured jaw following an altercation between two animals.
Jenson died suddenly and unexpectedly on March 6th. Born at SeaWorld Texas in 1992, the cause of the 22-year-old dolphin’s death remains unknown. The bottlenose was reported to have shown no signs of sickness prior to his death.
Nanuq was captured in Hudson Bay in 1990. Owned by the Vancouver Aquarium, he was sent to SeaWorld on a long-term breeding loan in 1997 and spent “breeding time” at all of SeaWorld’s parks: California, Texas and finally, Florida.
An editorial by Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel called for SeaWorld to recognize that members of the public were no longer entirely comfortable with the idea of keeping large marine mammals in captivity. Maxwell perfectly capped SeaWorld’s resistance in one sentence:
I’m still not completely sure SeaWorld gets that. Company execs still sometimes talk as though anyone with concerns about captive animals has been brainwashed or misinformed.
Brad Andrews, chief zoological officer for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment Inc., was quick to fire back at Maxwell. “By ‘evolve,'” Andrews said, “Maxwell appears to mean that SeaWorld should end the zoological display of whales and dolphins. We couldn’t disagree more.”
And this is why SeaWorld will continue to fail … and why Jim Atchison was ousted as CEO … and why SeaWorld shareholders have filed lawsuits against the company accusing them of dishonesty and suspicious stock trades.
SeaWorld revealed recently that visitors to its park were down by one million people. This drop in number was SeaWorld’s sole justification for its loss of earnings. In 2014 overall, SeaWorld’s revenue was down $82.4 million, or 6%, compared to 2013.
“Public opinion is everything,” said Abraham Lincoln, but it’s especially crucial when you rely on visitors to keep your business afloat. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus figured that out. They have chosen to phase out elephants from all of its shows.
“There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers,” said Alana Feld, the company’s executive vice president. “A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants.”
If people aren’t comfortable with a business model then you have two choices. You can evolve, or you can continue to kick and scream loudly as the public forces you to change. SeaWorld it seems, is intent on the latter.