'Blackfish' Backlash: Fan Pressure Leads Willie Nelson to Cancel SeaWorld Concert
Country music legend and animal welfare activist Willie Nelson has canceled his performance at SeaWorld Orlando’s Bands, Brew & BBQ Fest, which Nelson and his group were to kick off on Feb. 1, 2014.
Nelson confirmed the cancellation Friday afternoon during a live telephone interview with Brooke Baldwin on CNN—marking the second musical act to recently back out of entertainment engagements at one of its aquarium parks. Despite SeaWorld’s claim of a “scheduling conflict,” Nelson said that it was his friends and fans who led him to the cancellation.
“I had a lot of calls from people asking me to cancel, and I understand there’s petitions going around, and you know, I just had to cancel,” Nelson told Baldwin.
Even his own great-granddaughter gathered 250 signatures from “people she knew asking me not to play the venue,” he said. “And also, I don’t agree with the way they treat their animals, so it wasn’t that hard a deal to just cancel.”
SeaWorld did not return email or telephone requests for comment.
Sources tell me that a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort was undertaken to reach out to Nelson with information on killer whales in captivity, especially in light of Barenaked Ladies’ cancellation last week and the October premiere on CNN of the anti-captivity documentary Blackfish.
The popular Canadian group canceled its Feb. 15 gig at SeaWorld after drummer Tyler Stewart watched Blackfish and was reportedly rattled by what he saw.
"We've talked things over and decided not to play at SeaWorld at this time," the band wrote on its Facebook page. "This is a complicated issue, and we don't claim to understand all of it, but we don't feel comfortable proceeding with the gig at this time. The SeaWorld folks have been gracious and extended us invitations to the park to learn more about what they do, and how they do it. It's not about money, or petitions, or press…but it is about our fans. We listen to them, and they're important to us."
The cancellation of two marquee acts is just one more blow to SeaWorld, which, it is fair to say, has had better years. Attendance in the first nine months was down by 1 million visitors compared with the same period last year.
Then there was the robust reaction to Blackfish. According to Nielsen fast national data, among the youngest viewers (ages 18–34), CNN wiped out the competition on the day the documentary premiered, with 471,000 people in this group tuning in—more than eight times the combined number for Fox (31,000) and MSNBC (25,000). Online activity was also vigorous. “Blackfish ranked #1 in page views among all CNN films this year,” according to the press release.
"I am thrilled that yet another world-famous, socially conscious artist has chosen to cancel his SeaWorld performance,” says Samantha Berg, a former SeaWorld trainer featured in Blackfish. “Mr. Nelson's decision sends a powerful message that the exploitation of whales and dolphins for human entertainment is unacceptable and that it's time for SeaWorld and other marine parks and aquariums to do the right thing and end the shows.”
When asked if there was “anything SeaWorld could say or do” to change his mind, Nelson said no way. “I don’t want to play there,” he said, “and that’s just the end of the story.”
For now, SeaWorld Orlando’s Bands, Brew & BBQ Fest has a rather anemic lineup. Booking major acts at the park, whether in February 2014 or any time after that, will likely become difficult as public pressure is brought to bear on potential performers.
That could hurt SeaWorld’s already tarnished reputation, not to mention its bottom line.
7 Things About Wild Killer Whales You'll Never Learn at SeaWorld
Killer Whales are among the most intelligent species in the world, making them particularly unsuitable to captivity.
(One of the things I have noticed is that the majority of the killer whales in captivity shown in photos all have deformed dorsal fins.
Isn't it time we stop keeping intelligent, sentient, wide ranging marine mammals such as Dolphins and Orcas in captivity just for
our entertainment and profit for corporations?
We don't OWN these magnificent creatures and no-one should be able to, including Sea World and Yes, even our own Coral World with their plans of breeding even more dolphins for dismal, sterile lives in capitivity.)
Thank you for joining together to let Martina McBride know that it was important to cancel her performance at SeaWorld. She declared on facebook that she has decided to do just that! Congratulations, everyone and lets keep fighting until all animals in captivity are free to live their natural lives!
This message was sent by Rochelle Corey using the Change.org system. You received this email because you signed a petition started by Rochelle Corey on Change.org: "Martina McBride: Don't play at SeaWorld."
i have seen blackfish and i feel bad for the whales and other creatures that perform. but as we stand here and now what would be your solution to fix this. you obviously can not now release them into the wild as they are so used to getting handouts to survive. would this be a gradual reduction in handouts from the owners?
what should be done from here on out
with all of the stars pulling out. i had a question. if people actually stop going to these places that means no money coming in which means they will not have money to feed the creatures? right. oh, and unemployed people
these creatures for the most part have been held in captivity for years, would they even know what to do in the wild if they were to become free?
while it is fine to think that these places are bad, has anyone thought of the long term consequences of basically boycotting them is?
This is what they are boycotting....
The Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to funding and promoting independent marine research projects. Through research and rescue activities, the Foundation aims to help build our knowledge and appreciation of the wondrous variety of life in our oceans.
The Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation Inc (SWRRFI) has been a major benefactor of marine research in Australia since incorporation in 1991.
The Foundation seeks to encourage and assist marine sciences and to date has supported over 120 research projects relating to aspects of the biology of marine vertebrates and considers applications from both the private and public sectors.
Sea World's pioneering work in marine animal rescues has resulted in outstanding success in saving many sick, injured and stranded animals in the wild.
A team of highly skilled staff, headed by Director of Marine Sciences, Trevor Long, are on call 24 hours each and every day with resources and specialized equipment to ensure rescue operations can be initiated quickly and efficiently.
The costs of involving boats, helicopters and staff in long and difficult rescue operations can be enormous but these are entirely funded by Sea World.
Every time Sea World is involved in a rescue, an enormous contribution is made to public awareness and scientific knowledge. This program incorporates the rehabilitation of birds, turtles, sea snakes, dolphins and whales and helps Australian scientists with their research into marine life.
Keeping marine mammals such as Dolphins and Orcas in captivity when in the wild they roam hundreds of miles daily is wrong.
That's like keeping you confined to your bath-tub for the rest of your life.
Read "The Case Against Marine Mammals In Captivity by the Humane Society International and the World Society for the Protection of Animals:
"The Humane Society International and the World Society for the Protection of Animals have stated that they believe that "the entire captive experience for marine mammals is so sterile and contrary to even the most basic elements of compassion and humanity that it should be rejected outright."
jamison-do some research on this subject. it is really very sad
I have done plenty of reading about all of this and I agree, it's heartbreaking. Most species I would agree wouldn't make it being released for the first time, but whales and dolphins are very intellectual and family/group oriented. I think they do fine. Could always release and monitor.
Tanks Don’t Suit Them: 7 Orcas Living Rough Lives in Captivity
Killer whales, one of the animal kingdom's most intelligent species, belong in the open ocean—not in tiny marine park tanks.
Tilikum, SeaWorld's 12,000-pound breeding male orca. (Photo: Milan Boers / Flickr)
December 25, 2013 By David Kirby
David has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, "Death at Seaworld," was published in 2012.
Life for captive orcas can be extremely stressful, as evidenced in the documentary film Blackfish and my book Death at SeaWorld.
But when health, behavioral, familial, and reproductive issues are considered, it’s clear that some of the 53 killer whales living in aquariums and amusement parks around the world are leading even rougher lives than the others.
Of the seven we’ve chosen to highlight, six were ripped from their families in the wild—and five of them are prime candidates for rehabilitation and return to the ocean.
The following list was compiled in consultation with Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute and a leading expert on killer whales.
Could Kidnapping a Baby Dolphin End the Slaughter at ‘The Cove’?
Born: May 3, 2002—SeaWorld San Diego
Current Home: Loro Parque, Canary Islands, Spain
While there are no documented cases of female orcas rejecting their calves in the wild, such behavior has occurred numerous times with captive mothers. It happened twice with Kohana, one of four young orcas shipped by SeaWorld to the Loro Parque amusement park in the Canary Islands, Spain, in 2006 on a “breeding loan.”
In 2010, a very young Kohana gave birth to a male calf, Adan, whom she immediately rejected. In 2012 she gave birth again, to a female named Victoria, who was also promptly rejected. Victoria died last June. In both pregnancies, Kohana was bred with Keto, her uncle, who killed trainer Alexis Martinez in 2009.
Many critics speculate that Kohana simply never learned how to act maternally because there were no mother orcas at Loro Parque for her to emulate.
Age: About 43
Captured: November 1973 off Iceland
Current Home: Marineland, Ontario, Canada
In 2011, Kiska lost her longtime companion, a “breeding loan” orca named Ike, after SeaWorld sued Marineland to get its whale back. This left Kiska all alone in her tank, a de facto solitary confinement sentence that would be illegal under U.S. law.
Since then, a video of Kiska bleeding from her dorsal fin has been published by the Toronto Star. The accompanying story included interviews with two former trainers who alleged that understaffing led to chronic behavioral and health problems for Kiska.
While it’s not clear how Kiska cut herself, the former trainers blamed rough surfaces in her tank, including aging fiberglass. Marineland denied the allegations.
Age: About 46
Captured: Dec. 11, 1969, in Pender Harbour, British Columbia, Canada
Current Home: SeaWorld San Diego
Having just passed the 44th anniversary of her abduction, Corky holds the dubious distinction of being the longest-held captive killer whale in history.
In 1977, she delivered her first calf, a male, the first orca ever born in captivity. He lived 16 days. Corky became pregnant six times after that, but the longest any of her calves survived was 46 days. At 21, she stopped ovulating, about 20 years earlier than the average female orca in the ocean.
Conservationists know where Corky’s family members are, and reunion with them is an option. “Corky still remembers her family,” reads the “Free Corky” page at Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “She visibly shook and vocalized poignantly when a tape recording of her family's calls were played to her in 1993.”
Could the 2020 Olympics Force Japan to End ‘The Cove’ Slaughter?
Age: About 47
Captured: Aug. 8, 1970, at Penn Cove, Wash.
Current Home: Miami Seaquarium, Miami, Florida
Lolita is the world’s oldest captive orca.
Taken in the infamous Penn Cove roundup of 1970, she was sent to a tiny pool in Miami, where she continues to perform for tourists in a tank that does not meet minimum federal requirements for orca habitats. Despite outcries from activists over this clear violation, federal authorities continue to turn a blind eye.
Bottlenose dolphins live in Lolita’s tank, but she’s had no killer whale companion since her male tank mate of 10 years, Hugo, died in 1980 after banging his head repeatedly against a concrete wall.
Despite this, Lolita is extraordinarily gentle with people and has never been involved in a known act of aggression against her handlers.
Like Corky, she’s a prime candidate for rehab and release, as scientists know who and where her family is. But a long-standing plan for rehab and possible reunion with her pod has been met with stiff resistance from officials at Miami Seaquarium.
Age: About 25
Captured: Sept. 19, 1992, in Argentina
Current Home: Mundo Marino, San Clemente del Tuyú, Argentina
Kshamenk (pronounced "SHAW-menk") was found “stranded” off the Argentine coast, though many activists contend he was forced into stranding by Mundo Marino, a theme park outside Buenos Aires.
Once there, he was placed in a tank with a young female orca named Bélen, who died in 2000. This put Kshamenk in the same situation as Kiska and Lolita—a killer whale living in a small tank with no orca companion. Kshamenk is so desperate for companionship that he has reportedly tried to mate with a female dolphin tank mate, Floppy.
A petition calling for Kshamenk’s release currently has more than 10,000 signatures. But a 2006 evaluation, conducted by three experts on behalf of the Fundacion Vida Silvestre Argentina, concluded that Kshamenk was not a good candidate for release, and the best option was to leave him at Mundo Marino, adding that he is "strongly bonded" with Floppy.
Age: About 6
Captured: June 23, 2010, off the coast of the Netherlands
Current Home: Loro Parque, Canary Islands, Spain
Morgan’s life at Loro Parque has been anything but safe.
She has been “brutally and continually attacked and is subjected to excessive sexual pressure from a male orca who she is often locked into the same tank with,” according to Dr. Ingrid Visser of New Zealand’s Orca Research Trust and the Free Morgan Foundation.
Visser observed Morgan over eight days and witnessed an “unprecedented 91 aggression events” in when she “was attacked, on average, more than once an hour.”
A hearing on Morgan’s proposed release back into the open ocean was held on Dec. 3 at the Dutch High Court in The Hague.
A ruling is expected in mid-January 2014.
Age: About 33
Captured: Nov. 1, 1983, in Iceland
Current Home: SeaWorld Orlando
Since 1991, Tilikum, SeaWorld’s 12,000-pound breeding male, has been involved in the deaths of three people, most recently in February 2010 when he killed his longtime trainer Dawn Brancheau.
But as explained in the documentary Blackfish and the book Death at SeaWorld, the stress of Tilikum’s life in captivity might help explain his sporadic violent behavior.
As an adult male, he is lowest in the social hierarchy in orca society. So, despite his enormous size, he is routinely picked on by his more dominant female tank mates.
Many of Tilikum’s teeth are broken, and like all adult males in captivity, his dorsal fin has completely collapsed—a physical manifestation that some marine mammal experts attribute to too much time spent floating at the tank surface.
Meanwhile, SeaWorld continues to fight the government in the Brancheau case, in which Labor Department officials are trying to prevent any close contact between SeaWorld trainers and its orcas.
Wild orcas have never seriously attacked people; Tilikum has been involved in three human deaths. Clearly, he is trying to tell us something.
Large numbers of the famed Tennessee Walking Horses have been tortured and beaten in order to make them produce the high-stepping gait that wins championships, an ABC News investigation has found.
"All too often, you have to cheat to win in this sport," said Keith Dane of the Humane Society of the United States.
In the most recent example, an undercover video made by an investigator for the Humane Society documents the cruelty of one of the sport's leading trainers, Jackie McConnell of Collierville, Tennessee.
The video led to a federal grand jury indictment of McConnell and will be seen publicly for the first time tonight on the ABC News program "Nightline."
The tape shows McConnell and his stable hands beating horses with wooden sticks and using electric cattle prods on them as part of a training protocol to make them lift their feet in the pronounced gait judges like to see.
In another scene, McConnell oversees his hands as they apply caustic chemicals to the ankles of the horses and them wrap them with plastic wrap so the chemicals eat into the skin.
"That creates intense pain and then the ankles are wrapped with large metal chains so the horses flinch, or raise their feet even higher," said Dane of the Humane Society.
McConnell is expected to enter a guilty to plea to one count, according to his lawyers.
He declined to comment, or apologize for his acts, when approached by ABC News this week outside his home.
Leaders of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry maintain that such brutality is rare and that trainers do not have to cheat to win championships, which can add millions of dollars to the value of horses.
"They do not have to cheat to win," said Dr. Steve Mullins of the group called SHOW, which oversees inspections of horses before major events. "You don't have to do this kind of junk to win. ... And we are terribly against this stuff."
The industry group maintains that the vast majority of horses are not subjected to the cruel practice of "soring."
But a random inspection by the agents of the Department of Agriculture at last year's annual championship found that 52 of 52 horses tested positive for some sort of foreign substance around front hooves, either to cause pain or to hide it.
Dr. Mullins told ABC News there could be innocent explanations for some of the foreign substances found by the inspectors.
Tennessee Walking Horses are being severely abused, according to an undercover investigation recently released by the Humane Society.
A popular show horse, the breed began around the 1950s to draw more spectators for an exaggerated front leg action, called the “big lick.” Though some horses can naturally perform the crowd-pleasing movement, trotting with legs lifted high, others require lengthy conditioning.
To speed things up, some trainers began using a torturous method called “soring,” which involves applying caustic chemical agents, including diesel, to a horse’s legs and hooves, along with other painful practices that accentuate the gait. Because soring is known to be abusive, it’s been banned for over 40 years--but the practice has continued all the same.
The USDA’s Horse Protection Act should live up to its name and do its job. Tell USDA to enforce this act and end this abuse of horses.
Tens of thousands of Tennessee Walking Horses are born in the United States each year, many of which are destined to perform a crazy-looking walk called “the Big Lick” in one of many famous shows. But trainers today beat, burn, whip, and electrify horses to make them act this way — and federal law will allow them to get away with it unless a new law proposed this week is passed.
The basic horror for horses is a practice called “soring,” wherein trainers deliberately burn and slice horses’ hooves and ankles to twist their manner of walking in a way that’s painfully unnatural, but prize-winning in horse shows. The most common form of soring involves applying blistering chemicals like kerosene to a horse’s hoof and ankles, often for days. Even harsher soring might involve “pressure shoeing,” where trainers slice off large parts of the horse’s hoof and force the animal to put pressure on its sensitive and wounded feet. Horses are also more conventionally tortured — that is, beaten and electrocuted — as part of a training regimen aimed at “perfecting” their walk. Here’s some undercover footage from a Humane Society investigation of prominent trainer Jackie McConnell, who’s now pled guilty to criminal charges:
Soring has technically been a federal crime since the Horse Protection Act of 1970 (and is a felony in Tennessee), but the practice remains widespread. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigators tested 52 horses at the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration: all of them tested positive for foreign chemicals. A large percentage had also been given anesthetics, which mask the pain symptoms from soring during inspections. “Every trainer sored horses,” said Barney Davis, a former trainer convicted of soring his horses. “Without the soring, without some kind of soring, they’re not going to do the Big Lick.”
This massive, systematic abuse goes on because the USDA lacks the resources and legal backing to stop it. Because USDA funding is so scare, horse industry groups are allowed to hire “designated qualified persons” (DQPs), private trained citizens, to essentially self-regulate in lieu USDA inspections. But, according to an internal USDA audit, this system fails to provide meaningful accountability because the DQPs are loathe to report on the abuses of the people who pay their checks. As the audit report puts it, “Essentially, the horse show management gets the best of both worlds: use of DQPs so its liability is limited regarding the Horse Protection Act and an ineffective DQP process that rarely finds horses that are sore or eliminates horses from their show.”
On Monday, a bipartisan group of Congresspeople introduced legislation to end this failed system of self-regulation. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act would create a new USDA regulatory scheme for horse shows, ban certain soring devices, and impose harsher criminal penalties on convicted sorers. A similar bill was introduced in 2012, but did not pass.
The importance of undercover soring investigations given the currently weak state of federal laws illustrates the danger of so-called “ag-gag” laws, which functionally criminalize these kinds of animal cruelty investigations. Tennessee is currently considering one such law.
It's disgraceful. Despite that regulations have been put in place regarding the humane treatment of show horses, trainers continue to shirk the laws and utilize a painful practice called horse soring. Soring involves whipping, kicking, and shocking Tennessee walking horses' forelegs in order to achieve a high-stepping gait. To relieve pain as a result of the harmful abuse, horses walk with a higher gait that's highly coveted by show trainers.
Soring has been illegal for the past 40 years under The Horse Protection Act. But trainers are still getting away with it. Soring can produce long-term physical damage, such as abrasions, swelling, and extreme prolonged pain.
Sadly, horse soring is yet another case where the desire for profits and recognition is winning out over simple humanity. Press the USDA to stop allowing corrupt trainers to get away with such cruelty — and prosecute them to the fullest extent under The Horse Protection Act.
The tortures visited on too many (not all, but too many) Tennessee walking horses make one's skin crawl. The reason "eye examinations" are now permitted by the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, according to the Humane Society, is that some owners use eye drops to temporarily blind their horses. This makes them lift their hooves higher to try to feel their way around, since they cannot see. The most widely used technique, according to the Humane Society, is "soring," in which caustic chemicals, such as diesel fuel, kerosene, or mustard oil, are painted on the horse's pasterns (ankles). The pain is so intense the horse lifts its hoof to try to alleviate or get away from it.
Then there is so-called pressure shoeing, which can hide a foreign object (such as a screw or bolt) under a leather pad against the horse's front soles. Pressure shoeing can also mean cutting a horse's hoof wall and sole so short that it starts to bleed. In either case, each time the horse steps or puts weight on that hoof, it is extremely painful.
After a scandal in 2006, celebration organizers adopted rules to protect the horses. But the Humane Society's Keith Dane told me that at last year's celebration, many of the self-imposed regulations were not enforced. Dane said, for example, "We watched [inspectors] test only one front hoof [instead of both] when they got a backlog. What good does it do to test one hoof?"
Dane said the celebration promoters last year promised the Humane Society it could bring federal inspectors to perform random inspections in the show barns. All Humane Society and federal representatives were allowed to do was to ride with a celebration security officer on a golf cart in between the barns. They had no chance to look inside or inspect the condition of the horses.
Dane did say one change was made last year that, perhaps, lessened abuse of the horses. He said the celebration improved security in the inspection area. Horses are brought into the inspection area prior to warming up and then go right into the show ring. Before security was put in place, horses could be inspected, then taken out of the inspection area and replaced with look-alikes who went straight into the warm-up area. That did not happen in 2007.
I have talked to witnesses who say some of these horses are so deadened by pain that their eyes seem to glaze over. There must be some divine retribution in store for the humans who impose such horrible existences on these defenseless creatures.
The good news is the Humane Society and other animal protection organizations are shining a light on shady practices. One day soon, we can all hope sunlight will launch the cruelties into oblivion.
It is a terrible thing that we do to animals whether they be marine or land based for our entertainment, amusement and profit.
It is only when their horrendous treatment is brought to light, the public becomes educated and cares deeply enough about their
plight to be outraged will anything ever change and the tide turned against the inhumane treatment of all animals and wildlife.
Be a force for positive change and freedom for these helpless creatures and speak out to protect them.