SeaWorld Entertainment Inc chief executive officer Jim Atchison responded to the controversy over his company’s treatment of killer whales, sparked by the documentary, Blackfish, that ran in theaters and on CNN.
SeaWorld, the Orlando, Florida-based theme park operator, published full-page advertisements in eight newspapers yesterday firing back at “inaccurate reports” about the company and its animal performers.
The ads defended its treatment of the whales, the marquee performers at its namesake properties.
Blackfish was purchased in January by CNN Films and Magnolia Pictures. CNN, part of Time Warner Inc, held a TV premiere of the film in October and has run related segments before and after the initial air date.
“It firmly crosses the line of what you would expect from a news organization,” Atchison said yesterday in a telephone interview. “They are leveraging the imprimatur of a news agency for what really, clearly is another business venture of theirs, which is buying and marketing films.”
The network stood by its handling of the film.
“CNN made continued offers to SeaWorld to appear in conjunction with our coverage, and always disclosed our connection to the film in our reporting,” the network said in a statement.
SeaWorld’s ad is an open letter from the company’s zoological team, and a response to an online boycott campaign that led artists, including Willie Nelson and Cheap Trick, to cancel appearances next year at the Orlando park.
“The men and women of SeaWorld are true animal advocates,” the team said in the letter.
“We are the 1,500 scientists, researchers, veterinarians, trainers, marine biologists, aquarists, aviculturists, educators and conservationists who have dedicated our lives to the animals in our care, as well as those in the wild that are injured, ill or orphaned,” it added.
Blackfish, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, argues killer whales should not be held in captivity and that SeaWorld ignored warnings of the danger to handlers.
The film is “a story about the consequences of captivity for these animals that have thrilled millions in performances, but lead a much darker existence when the show is over,” a CNN release issued in October said.
Cowperthwaite said the CNN airing was crucial to reaching a wider audience.
Blackfish has been mentioned in press accounts as a possible contender for an Academy Award in the documentary film category.
Nominations will be released on Jan. 16.
“I’ll defer to the Academy folks as to what they pick,” Atchison said. “The film is a misleading bit of animal rights propaganda and I would not consider it a documentary worth watching.”