As the documentary “Blackfish” continues to tear down the facade created by SeaWorld of happy whales and dolphins in their “natural world”, the public perception of the reality of keeping marine mammals in captivity in tiny tanks is rapidly shifting. Consequently, a desperate SeaWorld fumbles with its misguided public relations responses (like manipulating an online poll in their favor?), and public and celebrity support for their marine parks continues to drop.

Still, Southwest Airlines has made the choice to continue its long-time partnership with SeaWorld. The airline, which even has planes painted to look like “Shamu” (SeaWorld’s singular “performance name” for its many captive orcas), released a statement this week in response to those who have called on Southwest to ditch SeaWorld due to concerns about their treatment of both animals and employees.

Let’s take a look at the statement meant to reassure concerned consumers and justify Southwest’s decision. Senior Manager of Culture & Communications, Marilee McInnis writes, “Over the past few weeks we’ve observed a number of Customers and community members reach out to Southwest Airlines regarding our partnership with SeaWorld.” By “a number” of customers and members of the public, they mean more than 27,000 people on one Change.org petition alone. That does not count the many individuals calling, emailing, tweeting or posting comments on Southwest’s Facebook page or planning demonstrations.

The statement goes on to state that Southwest’s relationship with SeaWorld is based on “travel and bringing families together.” This makes perfect sense…if by “travel” they mean the thousands of miles that captive marine mammals are forced to travel between the ocean and their new aquarium prison cells, or between marine parks. For instance, they might be referring to the 18 wild-caught beluga whales who were captured in Russia that the Georgia Aquarium is seeking to import and scatter to marine parks around the U.S. — including SeaWorld Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego. They could also be referencing Kirara, the captive-born Pacific white-sided dolphin who SeaWorld has applied to import from Kamogawa SeaWorld in Japan.

But surely, SeaWorld “brings families together,” right? Well, it may be true that families visit SeaWorld’s parks together. However, unless you want to teach your family that it’s okay to steal whales and dolphins from their “real” families and homes in the wild, deprive them of their natural food, and force them to perform stupid tricks for humans, it’s probably best to pick a different family outing. Captive dolphins and whales, including those at SeaWorld, are often kept in false pods and not with their families, as they would be in the wild. SeaWorld has separated families repeatedly, and abducted calves from their mothers for transport between parks. In the wild, orcas live in tight-knit matriarchal pods and many calves will stay with their mothers for life.

Speaking of ripping families apart, SeaWorld isn’t just doing that to the whales and dolphins already in their prison cells – er, tanks – but also to animals being torn directly from the ocean. Southwest Airlines goes on to say that SeaWorld is one of “several organizations and events” that they support because they help to “maintain the natural world.” Well, SeaWorld’s idea of maintaining the natural world is to take animals from their natural environment: the ocean. But marine animals like orcas who are apex predators help to maintain a healthy balance in our ocean ecosystems. While SeaWorld has been quick to point out that they no longer capture animals from the wild, this does not mean that they’re not contracting with others to do so for them. They too are on the Georgia Aquarium’s application to import the wild-caught beluga whales from Russia, and therefore, are an active part of that effort to enslave these whales who once swam free in the sea.

But it’s not too late for Southwest Airlines to change their mind and kick SeaWorld to the curb. If they’re looking to support an organization that actually helps to “maintain the natural world,” we welcome instead their support of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society USA. We will be more than happy to show them our vital marine conservation work for our clients: the whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, and others. Our Cove Guardians can explain why the captive marine mammal industry — of which SeaWorld is a large part — is inextricably linked to the ongoing slaughter of marine mammals in Taiji, Japan, as well as the violent capture of marine mammals from the ocean in Russia and elsewhere to feed the global captive trade.

Yes. We think Sea Shepherd and Southwest Airlines would make a great team. So much so, in fact, that we decided to do a “test flight” of our relationship in case they decide to take us up on our offer. What do you think?

Southwest 'Sea Shepherd" plane
Graphic Design: Cassie Randall

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