'Blackfish' Backlash: Fan Pressure Leads Willie Nelson to Cancel SeaWorld Concert  

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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.)

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Shocking Video of SeaWorld Attack

August 3, 2012

See video here:

Shocking Video of SeaWorld Attack

The release of a video showing Kasatka, a wild-caught orca enslaved at SeaWorld, exploding in extreme frustration at trainer Ken Peters in front of visitors to the theme park is sending shockwaves of outrage and dismay through the media and the public over the appalling pressures of captivity on orcas and other wild marine mammals—and the danger to those who come into contact with them.

As David Kirby describes in his book Death at SeaWorld, when Kasatka heard her calf’s distress calls for her from another tank, she dragged Peters underwater repeatedly, shaking him about before the stunned audience. Eventually gaining his freedom, Peters required surgery for his injuries. But SeaWorld ignored the risks, permitting the perilous situations to continue.

This video footage was previously shown during the Secretary of Labor v. SeaWorld of Florida LLC trial, which resulted from the horrific death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau during a disturbingly similar episode involving another captive orca, Tilikum. Judge Ken Welsch, who called the video “chilling,” held SeaWorld liable for permitting hazardous interactions between humans and the huge, dangerously stressed animals.

What You Can Do

Please join PETA in asking The Blackstone Group—the company that owns SeaWorld—to release its animal captives into sanctuaries. And if you know people who are planning a trip to SeaWorld, encourage them to visit PETA’s new website, SeaWorldOfHurt.com, to learn what kinds of cruelty their dollars would support.

Read more:

Shocking Video of SeaWorld Attack

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Update on the case for non-human personhood and the rights of whales and dolphins.

Dear signatories to the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: whales and dolphins.

No doubt you will have seen the growing media interest in the rights of non-humans, and here we provide you with an update on some developments in the field of whale and dolphin rights over the last year.

For example, in a bold move SEA LIFE, a major aquarium chain, have announced a very progressive position on whale and dolphin captivity:

SEA LIFE believes that the highly evolved sensory abilities and complex social structures of whales and dolphins makes them unsuited to captivity and that they should never be taken from the wild for the purpose of captive display or entertainment.’

Thank you for your support. Please don’t forget to forward the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins to your colleagues and friends for them to sign and add their voice to this growing movement.

Philosopher, Professor Thomas I White, has been an advocate for recognising the rights of whales and dolphins for over two decades and is one of the founding signatories to the Declaration for the Rights of cetaceans: whales and dolphins.

In a new essay ‘Whales, Dolphins and Ethics: A Primer’, White lays down the gauntlet to marine mammal scientists, asking them not just to languish in data collection and analysis, but to also reflect on the ethical significance of some of these new scientific insights. He notes: ‘The fundamental challenge for marine mammal scientists who want to explore the ethical implications of what marine mammal science has discovered about whales and dolphins is to move from the description of facts about whales and dolphins to the evaluation of what those facts say about human behavior towards these cetaceans’.

White argues further that beyond the basic right to life, whales and dolphins deserve the right to flourish in their natural environments. In a presentation he gave in July this year, he outlines the conditions required to enable these species to flourish.

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Professor Thomas I White argues that dolphins are non-human persons. Like humans, then, they have moral rights appropriate to their nature. White argues that the scientific data of the last thirty years makes it quite clear that the slaughter and captivity of dolphins are ethically indefensible. He argues further that anyone who doesn't recognize this is either unfamiliar with the full body of relevant scientific literature or doesn't understand the ethical significance of the data.


Professor Thomas I. White, Ph.D., Conrad N. Hilton Professor in Ethics, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA

Fellow, Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics

Author, In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007). Whale, Dolphins, Ethics: A Primer (2014).

Recent discussions about the philosophical implications (especially the ethical implications) of the scientific research on whales and dolphins have shown that a variety of claims can be easily misunderstood: 1) that whales and dolphins are “nonhuman persons”; 2) that they are entitled to “rights”; 3) that these rights are violated by such human activities as whaling, drive hunts and captivity; and, therefore, 4) that these activities are ethically indefensible. This short essay attempts to clarify these claims and to point to the scientific research that underlies them.



The concept of a “person” as opposed to a “human” is a standard part of metaphysics, the part of philosophy that the most fundamental features of existence. “Personhood” has a long history in philosophy and is closely connected to the discussion of “personal identity.” (For a couple of good, basic articles, see the entries to “personal identity” and “persons” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)


The simplest answer is that a person is a who, not a what. The more technical answer is that a “person” is any being, no matter what their species, who has the traits that imply a sophisticated level of intellectual and emotional sophistication. The set of criteria used in my In Defense of Dolphins sets the bar quite high: being alive; aware; the ability to experience positive and negative sensations (pleasure and pain); emotions; self-consciousness and a personality; self-controlled behavior; recognizes and treats other persons appropriately; and a series of higher order intellectual abilities (abstract thought, learning, solves complex problems and communicates in a way that suggests thought). Other sets of criteria for personhood have less to them.

The distinction between “human” and “person” leads immediately to two questions: Are all humans persons? And, are there any persons who are not human?

The first question has come up repeatedly in medical ethics. For example, is someone “brain dead” a person? Or, is a fetus a person? If we were to say that the answer to one or both of these questions is “no,” what does this say about the ethical character of an action to end the life of a “human non-person”?

The second question is discussed in animal ethics. Scientific research has continued to uncover impressive intellectual and emotional abilities in such nonhumans as chimps, gorillas, elephants, whales and dolphins. If these abilities are sophisticated enough to suggest that these mammals are “persons,” what does that say about the ethical character of human treatment of these animals: use in medical experimentation, willful killing, captive breeding, confinement in captivity for the sake of research, human therapy, entertainment, generating profit and the like?


One of the most important reasons is to limit the amount of species-bias that can color discussions of the treatment of nonhumans. Ideally, ‘person’ is a species-neutral term.


From an ethical perspective, personhood matters because persons have what philosophers refer to as “moral standing.” If you’re a person, then you’re entitled to be treated in certain ways. To have “moral standing” means that in any calculation about what the right thing to do is in a situation, you count. Your pain, happiness, rights and interests matter. Also, you count as an individual.

This is one of the most important implications of the fact that nonhumans like dolphins are persons. They count as individuals—the same way that you and I count as individuals. Conservationists, however, talk about dolphin “stocks” and “populations.” One of the most disappointing things about the letters that the Society for Marine Mammalogy have sent to the Japanese government opposing the drive hunts is that they referred only to “stocks” and fail to take up the issue of the welfare of individual dolphins. The underlying assumption is that the drive hunts kill too many dolphins for the population to sustain itself. Unfortunately, this implies that if the hunts kill fewer dolphins, it would be OK. This would be like saying that—if we take a small human community as an example—as long as the number of people we kill doesn’t have a significant, negative impact on reproduction rates in the village, then the deaths are acceptable.


No. To say, “If A is a person, then A has moral standing” does not imply that “If A is not a person, then A does not have moral standing.” That’s the logical fallacy of denying the antecedent.

Unfortunately, a common objection to the “personhood” argument is that it encourages people to think that other animals deserve proper treatment only if they’re “just like us.” As Diana Reiss has commented, “Since dolphins are, like humans, intelligent, self-aware beings with personalities, emotions, and the capability to govern their own behavior, [Thomas White] proposed they be viewed as ‘nonhuman persons’ . . .. I worry about this argument, however—does it mean that other species may be mistreated?” [248-9]

My answer is that if people are looking for an excuse to mistreat nonhumans, they’ll find one. And they may use the “personhood” argument as a rationalization. But that just means that animal rights advocates need a different argument for nonhumans. It’s important to recognize, however, that the personhood argument is the strongest case to use with average people if we’re talking about how we should treat cetaceans better. In my experience, the “personhood” argument explains even to someone with anthropocentric biases why it’s wrong to kill dolphins or keep them captive.

Also, it’s appropriate to use the distinction between “persons” and “nonpersons” because they have different capacities for pain and harm. For example, if I mock and berate a friend in public for the purpose of cruelly humiliating him for my own pleasure, I’m sure he’ll experience pain. If I say exactly the same thing to a squirrel I may come across, I doubt that my words will have any impact on him. He doesn’t have this particular vulnerability to being hurt in this way.


Corporations are “legal persons” not, shall we say, “moral persons,” which I’ll discuss shortly. I appreciate that there is a legal tradition that thinks this makes sense, but I’m not one of them. Legally, a legislature could make my toaster a ‘person.’


Personhood implies moral standing. The way that I describe the next step is to say that this is a recognition that the complexities that go with being a person mean that the conditions that we need in order to grow, flourish or experience life in even a rudimentarily satisfying way are more complicated than the conditions nonpersons need; it also means that these complexities make us vulnerable to harm in a way that nonpersons aren’t.

But notice that I’m talking about “needs” not “rights.” That’s deliberate because I maintain that rights are derivative from basic needs.


First of all, we aren’t talking about “legal rights” at all. So set aside any thought about how we enforce any of this or enshrine it in laws or treaties until we can get everyone discussing this through at least one conversation at the simplest level and stay on track.

We’re talking about “moral rights,” and they’re grounded in the idea that the fact that someone’s a person means that the only way they’ll grow, develop fully, flourish and experience even a basic sense of satisfaction with life is if they experience certain conditions. This approach says that a person has a right to something because he or she absolutely, positively needs it in order to fully grow, develop, etc.


That depends on the species, which is why this is all “species-specific.”

For humans, look at any of the various statements of “basic human needs” or “basic human rights.” What we get is something like these: Life; Physical health and safety; Emotional health and safety; Freedom of choice (actions, beliefs); Education (way to get necessary skills); Fairness, care, equality, respect for our dignity as persons; Access to meaningful emotional relationships; Rest.

The most logically fundamental piece of this, then, is the idea of “basic human needs.” This then lets us say that there are such things as “basic human rights,” or, if you like, “inalienable rights.” We have a right to them because we need them. If we don’t get them, we’re in some way harmed.

The logic would be the same with cetaceans—except we know so much less than we need to about what their “basic needs” are. But we do know that they need: life; a rich and complex social life; the liberty to operate in a way that individuals and communities are able to operate successfully enough in an environment to survive in both the short and long term.

The Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans, then, is a statement meant to describe what we have to do in order to allow cetaceans to get these needs met.

That’s why it’s a Declaration of Cetacean Rights, not human rights.


Yes and no. On the one hand, if it were possible, it would seem as though no cetacean is being harmed. However, what we’ve learned about the social lives of wild dolphins makes it clear that we can’t replicate those conditions in captivity. Your facility would have to be at least as big as, say, the Sarasota Bay.

However, one of the most important needs that persons seem to have is to be treated with dignity, with respect for their autonomy and ability to determine their own fates. This is the idea that persons have inherent worth, that they’re somehow special in and of themselves, and that it’s intrinsically wrong to treat them as objects. Hence, the Declaration’s statement that cetaceans have a right not to be treated as property.

Even among humans, we’d say that it’s simply fundamentally wrong to own another person or to treat them as though were simply an object. Even if we treated slaves well, we still say that it’s wrong.


No. I’ve been doing presentations on this to all sorts of audiences for more than 20 years. When most people hear the evidence (which, minimally, takes about an hour to lay out even the most basic case), they understand that it makes sense. They recognize that putting this into practice is going to be complicated. But when they understand the concept of “person,” when they hear the evidence and when they hear what the philosophical and ethical implications of the evidence are, they’re basically OK with this.

They recognize that there will inevitably be conflicts between human rights and cetacean rights that we’ll have to resolve—just like we have to resolve conflicts between the rights of one human and the rights of another human now. But not all of this is impossibly complicated. For now, I’d settle with everyone recognizing that the deliberate killing of cetaceans is wrong, that captive breeding is wrong, and that we have to figure out what to do with the cetaceans who are in captivity. (Can they go to preserves? Can some be released? What’s appropriate?)


Yes. Personhood is neither the only nor, probably, the best philosophical argument for treating cetaceans in an ethically acceptable fashion. It still has problems with species bias. But it’s the best one to use with the general public, and it’s probably the only approach the courts will eventually listen to.

Personhood has major weaknesses, however, because of how anthropocentric the criteria are. This is especially evident in the way “intelligence” gets defined and studied, and in the human fixation on “language.” (It’s beyond the current scope of this piece to go into this, but I’m beginning to think that the best evidence for “cetacean intelligence” lies in “cetacean culture.”) I’m currently developing an approach that tries to address the weaknesses of personhood by making central the species-specific conditions related to “flourishing.”

I’m adapting a new approach to animal ethics pioneered by philosopher Martha Nussbaum (a philosopher at the University of Chicago). She calls it the “capabilities approach.”

The central idea I’m advancing is that we need to begin with what cetaceans need in order to flourish—that is, what they need in order to develop the physical, emotional, social and intellectual capabilities inherent in their species which allow them to have a successful and satisfying life. I’ll explain this perspective in my next book. As a way of illuminating the biological foundation of the claim that cetaceans have moral rights, I’ll describe what marine scientists have discovered about the conditions cetaceans require in order to grow and develop fully. I’ll argue for a broader understanding of what constitutes harm for cetaceans than has traditionally been used in discussions about how marine mammals should be treated. For example, it is obvious that we can harm humans by subjecting them to a life which, while physically safe, is barren in many other ways and prevents the development of certain capabilities (e.g., literacy). I’ll argue that it is similarly harmful to limit captive cetaceans to a life which, while physically safe, deprives them, for example, of the opportunity to learn the social skills needed to manage the many and varied relationships which are central to the lives of wild dolphins and orcas and which are critical to their well-being.


I’d like to be able to put this more diplomatically, but, in my opinion, at least, what strikes me as “mainstream thinking” in the marine mammal science community is obsolete and philosophically uninformed. (To be fair, most of the discussion by philosophers is scientifically uninformed. This is one of the challenges of multi-disciplinary work. And I never make a presentation to philosophers without stressing the importance of concentrating on a specific species [not “animals”], having a thorough familiarity with the scientific literature and having some serious exposure to field-work.) The evidence for the personhood of dolphins—and what the ethical implications of that are—are so clear that this is not really a controversial issue any more. Anyone challenging it (or saying they ‘aren’t sure’) either hasn’t studied the scientific evidence closely enough, or, if they have, they don’t understand the philosophical and ethical implications of the data. This is no more debatable than the fact that global warming is taking place. People can spin things to make it sound as though it’s debatable. But if you really know the facts and understand what they mean, there’s nothing to debate.

The best recent example of this is the 2012 letter that the leadership of the Society for Marine Mammalogy sent to the Japanese government objecting to the ongoing killing of dolphins in the annual drive hunts there. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that dolphins, like humans, experience life as self-aware individuals, the letter employs an obsolete perspective that discusses only the sustainability of “stocks” or “populations” of dolphins. The letter fails to offer the strongest ethical argument—that the killing of any individual dolphin is indefensible. In my opinion, the traditional, “conservation” outlook in which these senior scientists were trained makes it difficult for them to appreciate fully the ethical significance of the empirical research in their field.

Another common example is the idea that captivity is defensible because the benefits to a large number of wild dolphins outweigh the costs to the far smaller number of captive dolphins. This is the classic weakness of “utilitarianism.” In my opinion, the only way you can make this argument work is to advance the claim that a minority is less important than the majority, and a smaller number of people can be used, in effect, as tools to advance the welfare of the majority.


The other problem is that I think that much of what is presented in captive facilities is “mis-education.” What’s described about dolphins is carefully edited to omit, for example, the research that suggests that dolphins are individual, nonhuman persons whose welfare depends on social conditions that couldn’t possibly be replicated in captivity.

In my opinion, when it comes to education, anything less than “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” is unacceptable.
Take a look at the websites of the major captive facilities. They’ll give lots of detailed information about many aspects of dolphins—except intelligence, self-awareness, individuality, etc. It can reasonably be argued, then, that captivity doesn’t “educate,” but “perpetuates a stereotype”—Lassie of the sea.


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There are all sorts of odd and unexpected pairings in the animal kingdom: cats and birds, hippos and turtles, chimps and pumas. Every day in the small Irish town of Tory Island, Ben the yellow lab runs down to the harbor and jumps into the water.

He doesn’t have to wait long for his dolphin friend, Duggie, to show up, and the two then go for a swim. Locals say the pair will swim for anywhere up to three hours (depending on Ben’s schedule), and Duggie will make sure Ben gets back to shore if he’s tired. Though the two have very different lives, they are inseparable when it comes to play time.

See video:


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Could This Beautiful Attraction End Marine Animal Captivity for Good?

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/could-this-beautiful-attraction-end-marine-animal-captivity-for-good.html#ixzz3JcIevADh

Blackfish already made waves in the cetacean captivity debate, but one of the former trainers featured in the documentary has done more for the cause. We met Christopher Porter, the former Sealand trainer, early on in the film; when Tilikum the Killer Whale was being transferred to SeaWorld, Porter was happy for the orca because, as he describes in the film, “it was like, ‘OK, Tilly, you’re going to Disneyland. Lucky you.” But Porter couldn’t delude himself much longer about Tilikum’s situation or the situation of marine animals in captivity, so he’s doing something to change that — and it’s called OceanWall.

OceanWall Makes its Debut

As reported in Times Colonist, Christopher Porter’s OceanWall made its grand debut on November 8 at the Hillside Centre. The huge attraction – complete with nine screens, each 3.7-meters high and 2.1-meters wide — resides in the middle of the shopping center’s food court and plays videos of the ocean and its surrounding wildlife.

As Porter told the Times Colonist, the goal of his project is to “get the general public to focus on the wild and the state of the wild as it is.” Instead of getting up close and personal to marine wildlife at a sea circus or aquarium, Porter brings the wildlife to us with the hope that we’ll still come to appreciate and protect the animals without ever drawing a picture with them, swimming with dolphins or making them perform tricks. While there will be no narration, his images are important because they capture wildlife in their normal activities; for example, the endangered polar bear hunting for salmon, instead of the abnormal stereotypic behaviors that we’ve come to accept as normal. In this way, the animals will tell their own stories.

There’s also a nuance of citizen science in Porter’s project. Everyday people can submit their own encounters with wildlife to WildVision Edutainment, of which Porter is one investor. The screens will be updated with new content regularly, and Porter hopes to bring in marine wildlife experts to “edutain” the shopping center’s visitors. While OceanWall is still getting used to its sea legs, Porter envisions it going to spas, hotel lobbies, schools and gymnasiums. I’d definitely take OceanWall over an aquarium any day.

What About the Cetaceans in Captivity Now?

While Porter’s project could address one half of the problem of cetacean captivity by preventing the need for it, it doesn’t answer the other whale of a problem: what are we going to do with the cetaceans currently stuck in captivity? While we’d love to see all of the tanks empty and every killer whale and dolphin back with their pods, realistically that’s just not going to be possible in every case. But the good news is that there is an option that gets the cetaceans back in the ocean: sea pens.

As marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D., wrote in CNN, sea pens are netted-off bays or coves in the ocean that act as sanctuaries for the retired animals. There’d be no people gawking at them and no foreign sounds or lights. They’d live in pods, but incompatible members wouldn’t be forced to stay together like Tilikum had to and was repeatedly bullied because of it.

The only human contact would be in the form of veterinary care because captive whales are generally more unhealthy and live shorter lives compared to their wild counterparts. Captivity does kill with the host of obesity-and stereotypic-related illnesses, including bad teeth from chewing on the gates. And the most important difference between a sea pen and a sea circus: there would be absolutely no breeding. This way, the cetaceans that have had their freedom stolen from them get a piece of it back, and no future generations have to go through it again.

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