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Southwest Airlines Needs to Quickly Take a Clearer Stand on the Blackfish Controversy


If you haven’t seen the documentary Blackfish, I highly encourage you to do so. It’s a look specifically at a bull orca, Tilikum, who has killed three people in 30 years of captivity, but more broadly it’s an investigation into the ethos of SeaWorld. It shows, in interviews with experts and former SeaWorld employees, how the company has ignored safety and animal-rights concerns for decades even as it has promoted itself as a place where families can learn more about these creatures in a (supposedly) safe and nurturing environment.

Maybe you think that’s animal-rights malarky — for your ad hominem attacks later, yes, I’m clearly a pinko Commie liberal, but I am far from an animal-rights activist — but you can’t deny the backlash the film has generated. (When .38 Special thinks you’re too hot to handle, your company should be in full-fledged crisis mode.)

Southwest Airlines, for example, was picketed on Wednesday because of its long-standing partnership with SeaWorld (which you primarily know from its four “specialty planes” it flies or has flown: three painted like the orca Shamu, and one painted with SeaWorld penguins). The company, which initially resisted making an official statement, blogged its official stance in the wake of this protest. It was, to quote a commenter,  “corporate-speak nonsense”:

We have a longstanding relationship with SeaWorld that is based on travel and bringing families together. We are engaged with Sea World related to the recent concerns being raised. We are in a listening and education mode with the goal of upholding our commitments as a good corporate citizen.  As a responsible member of the community, we support several organizations and events that are devoted to maintaining the natural world.

Free advice to SWA (full disclosure: whose in-flight magazine I used to edit): this is not a new issue, it extends all over the globe, and it isn’t going away. Whatever benefit you may have once had from your brand partnership will only hurt you. Better think about how to end that relationship, and quickly.

  • Everlasting Phelps

    I’m with the Japanese — FOOOKA A YU, DORFEEN!

  • jmckee

    Personally I thought Southwest’s worst move was when they bent that little fin on the top of the plane over.

  • Peter Kurilecz

    no matter what SWA does the anti-SeaWorld folks will castigate them

  • Mavdog

    great job Phelps, with a single post you:
    – insulted the Asian community,
    – managed to insult the animal rights community as well, and
    – revealed that your sense of humor is on par with a 1965 Jerry Lewis skit. btw when you typed the words did you contort you face to make the Jerry Lewis buck teeth bit too? uh huh, thought so.
    good grief….

  • Rick E. Parrie

    I’m pretty sure you and Tim pleasure yourself whenever you type “ad-hominem.”

  • Monty Busch

    God forbid someone paint a whale on plane. Or should I have said your chosen deity. …

  • Mavdog

    The SWA statement is an excellent example of using many words but actually saying nothing.
    In the long run SWA needs to disengage from SeaWorld. The negatives totally outweigh the positives.

  • tested

    Upfront confession: I haven’t seen Blackfish and am not sure where I could see it. I am also not a fan of animal rights activists or people who wontanly abuse animals. That said, Sea World has always struck me as a place run by animal rights activists. I have enjoyed visiting their park in San Antonio on several occasions. They seem to hit you over the head with tree-hugging environmentalism and animal conservation efforts. This controversy has struck me as a fight by animal rights purists who (generally speaking) don’t like capitalism and those who like the idea of a big business like Sea World helping to get their message out. Southwest Airlines is doing the right thing here by not jumping to conclusions. It is no surprise that a bunch of music artists would shy away from controversy but Southwest is in a very different position. They need destinations to fly people to. Their efforts to wait and evaluate is very reasonable and logical.

    My hunch is that this documentary controversy will blow over. Those wishing for a “closed” sign on Sea World will be disappointed.

  • Alexander Muse

    Um, no they dont…

  • Alexander Muse

    Um, no they don’t.

  • snowman

    So many words by one that knows nothing and didnt want to know or watch the movie.

  • Emma

    This is not a documentary nor a subject that will just “blow over.” And I personally would educate oneself before forming a conclusion.

  • DGirl

    Good one!

  • Eric Celeste

    For some reason, I JUST saw this comment. And I’d like to say, in all sincerity, that yes, yes we do.