Southwest Airlines in Hot Water Over Seaworld Blackfish Controversy

Shamu One
Shamu One

Despite apparent record profits, SeaWorld is in the thick of an emotional controversy about the ethics of keeping dolphins and whales in captivity for the purpose of putting on shows. It all stems from last fall’s documentary, Blackfish, which depicts the life of Tilikum, a captive orca who has killed three people over the years. The film alleges his behavior is the result of psychological trauma brought on by being in captivity and goes on to discuss many other ethical downsides to whale and dolphin shows.

Let me get my bias right out on the table – I think dolphin and orca shows are ridiculous, though I’m willing to give SeaWorld the benefit of the doubt that they have at least a modicum of conservational value somewhere buried between the roller coasters and popcorn stands. SeaWorld does make some effort to create an educational experience for visitors, but it is definitely not a zoo. Its primary mission is entertaining and making money.

However, this post is about Southwest Airlines, one of SeaWorld’s promotional partners and the latest target of attention by folks rallying to put a stop to cetacean captivity performances. The hope is that pressure on Southwest will reach SeaWorld.

For years, Southwest Airlines has been a marketing parter for Sea World, decorating planes in “Shamu” colors. With a huge presence in Orlando and San Diego, the partnership likely drives a lot of business for the airline.   Southwest also has a very good reputation for CSR – in particular employee engagement and listening to customers as well as integrated GRI reporting.  Much of this is manifested on Southwest’s very good blog.

Southwest’s response (so far) has been first rate – a non defensive blog post, openly acknowledging the concerns of the thousands of people who have been in touch with the airline.  Most importantly, Southwest is taking comments on the post, and does not seem to be censoring critical comments.  The result is a dialogue that has remained civil and constructive.

As of today’s writing the post makes no commitment to alter Southwest’s marketing relationship with SeaWorld, but with more and more attention piling on the issue – not to mention Blackfish’s likely position as an Academy Award nominee – this is certainly not the last communication we’re likely to hear from them.

The question is what happens next? It may seem a bit unfair for Southwest to be held responsible for something that is not directly under their control. But with rising concern about their partner’s behavior, the pressure is on to take a stance one way or another.

Personally, I’d love to see Southwest drop SeaWorld, make a nice donation to Conservation International and keep their orcas flying.  Just rename them something other than Shamu.  But at the end of the day, the company will walk a fine line judging the volume of protests with the possibility of lost business with a dose of their own ethics. However it plays out, it will be a very interesting decision to watch.

Rigged poll in Orlando Sentinel

Image c/o Southwest

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

19 responses

    1. You won’t be missed, enjoy paying more to travel. Besides, by the looks of your photo you need two seats. My sisters husband is in management at SW so stick it up your azz.

      1. Viper is definitely a good word to describe you. This is America. People have their own opinions and can voice them. Teresa and I (and a growing number of the population) are anticaptivity. Congratulations on being so ignorant that you have to attack someone’s weight. The fact remains that Seaworld holds intelligent sentient beings in captivity when it is not in the best interest of the orcas. And if I were you I wouldn’t be bragging that you’re related to someone who works for any company that supports Seaworld. Seaworld only interested in profits. That’s the only concern. They don’t give a shit about the orcas OR their employees. That’s why they’re fighting OSHA to put trainers back in the water with the orcas despite the innumerable incidents and three deaths. They want the incredibly outdated, corny Shamu show to continue because ignorant people will shell out money to go see it. This is the beginning of the end of captivity. Too many people are informed and up in arms about Seaworld and their incessant bullshit. And at this point, any company that continues doing business with Seaworld just appears outdated and out of touch. So yes Teresa, many people including myself will never fly Southwest again. That’s okay because I love Jetblue anyway.

        1. Okay let’s think about this for a moment…. We put marine animals that have lived in captivity their whole life. You know cuz that TOTALLY makes sense. That’s like putting a gold fish you bought at the store into the ocean or letting a house pet into the wild because “technically” they’re wild animals. Yeah let’s see how that turns out. Also wouldn’t you think that the employees whole WANT to swim with the orcas know the risks they are taking. Once again they’re animals and therefor (the best way for me to put it…) shit happens. There will always be dangers but anyone who gets into those waters knows the risk. It’s just like going to the beach to swim, you will always have potential dangers. Or even when you walk out your front door. Instead of advocating the release of a captivated marine animal maybe everyone should begin to advocate towards banning reproduction of any captivated marine animals.

      2. You just doing PR for SW, I seen your post everywhere, that only shows how desperate you guys are. And you know what, SW is the one that not going to be missed.

    1. 1. Please do not try to back up your support of SeaWorld using SeaWorld’s own facts and websites which are full of bullshit.
      2. Is that first site supposed to be supportive of captivity? Yes, the ocean is a dangerous place. Yes, there are things out there that can harm whales and other wildlife. Is that an excuse to keep them in small pools for their entire lives? They won’t encounter a toxin in the ocean, but instead they’ll be stressed, given antibiotics that destroy their immune systems, have their teeth drilled out, be fed frozen fish which leads to dehydration so they have to eat gelatin supplements. Best of all, they get to perform stupid tricks for stupid people all to make a giant corporation richer! On top of all this, they’ll be separated from their families and children if another SeaWorld park needs a new orca! FANTASTIC! That sounds much better than swimming in the ocean with their pods. Spending their lives in freedom doing whatever they want. Note that this post is DRIPPING with sarcasm. The fact of the matter is, however dangerous the ocean is it is where these wild animals belong.

  1. SWA blog is not allowing comments to be posted on the blog “Update on SeaWorld Partnership”. Whenever you hit the comment button, it says “login to comment” even when I am logged in and can post a comment on the other blogs. Is SWA afraid?

  2. Southwest’s ultimate decision will show their true colors when it comes to social responsibility. Fact: dolphins and whales are wild animals that live in close knit family pods, swim hundreds of miles a day, hunt for live food, and the list goes on. It is impossible for any captive facility to replicate the life these sentient beings live in the wild. Period. It is cruel and unethical to keep them prisoner in a concrete, chemical-laden bathtub for profit or otherwise. Period. If Southwest did not know any of this before Blackfish, they know now. Now, the choice is clear.

  3. I have to say, I’m very torn about the issue of captivity and releasing into the wild, and that’s because I don’t know which environment people cause more harm to. Orcas are not creatures meant to be in captivity by any means, but we have done a thorough job of damaging their natural environment.
    Ideally, I don’t think they should necessarily be in captivity, but I’d love to see the conversation shifted from saving the, maybe 10 whales in captivity, to saving the thousands that are still living in the ocean. Once we have a grip on saving biodiversity in our oceans then I think it would be appropriate to really focus on captive animals.

  4. Sea World cares for those animals. Most of them are rescued anyway. It’s really funny reading the “anti-captivity” comments… I wonder how many of these people are going home to eat a tuna salad, pepperoni pizza, or chicken flavored whatever?

  5. Wow KJC , you are correct THIS IS AMERICA. We are a captiatist society last time I checked. But more importantly please do remember how many birds get sucked in to the intake of the turbines, supplying power for the jet (company) you’ve decide to fly on, and is spewing tons of pollutants a year to the atmosphere. But I bet know you already knew that trivia. Really, My kids learned a lot a Sea world and loved it, even so much that one wants to be a marine biologist, oh no forbid!

  6. Many of us think there is a world crisis pertaining to the dolphins and whales in the wild. Japan is in the midst of their annual slaughter of almost 20,000 dolphins per year. During the middle of January 2014, the drive hunt captured and slaughtered over 200 wild dolphins. DON’T BE FOCUSED ON THE MOVIE BLACKFISH _ LET”S MOVE PAST THAT!!!! . Several countries such as India have responded to the crisis by classifying dolphins as a non human species and banning captivity via elevating their status. In fact, there is a lot of data to suggest that the dolphins are very much related to humans because of their amazing abilities to rescue swimmers when in trouble, and other unique traits. Seaworld like many in the captive dolphin and whale industry hand feed their marine mammals. They also keep them in small swimming pools. This makes the public view them not as wild and wonderful marine mammals, but as “FISH,” or even as “PETS” as most of them are named. The purpose of Seaworld is to make money and provide entertainment. Their goal is not to help these marine mammals or they would not be participating in the captivity business when SO MANY whales and dolphins are being slaughtered and captured for captivity every year since the 1960s. In Taiji Japan, they have captured and slaughtered almost 20,000 dolphins. Southwest should not be a participant in DOWNGRADING THE WHALE AND DOLPHINS to the status of fish. THESE MARINE MAMMMALS NEED OUR PROTECTION. WAZA has condemned the dolphin drives to no avail. The Japanese hide behind the excuse that these drives are part of their culture. This is a ludicrous argument because the engine was not developed until the late 1800s and the car was not even developed until the early 1900s. The Japanese fishermen did not round up a pod of over 200 dolphins in one weekend with rowboats/canoes and drive them into the COVE. To hide behind this argument is utterly ridiculous!!! We need to get OUT of the dolphin captivity business. The whales and dolphins need MORE protection from more aquariums and by the industries that support them. The Monterey Bay Aquarium releases even their fish after 6 months. The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito rescues and rehabilitates injured and sick marine mammals. These are the kind of organizations we should be supporting, not an organization like Seaworld, whose primary interest is money and entertainment, when there is a crisis going on around the world in terms of the huge number of whales and dolphins being slaughtered for profit. . Southwest SHOULD NOT BE partnering with Seaworld!!!!!!

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