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Michelle Branham

on 20 November 2014

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'Friend' in Chinook
February 24, 2010
'Never capture what you can't control.'
The contributing factors to the accident, in the simplest of terms, is that swimming with captive
Orcas is inherently dangerous & if someone hasn't been killed already,
it is only a matter of time before it does happen.
Trainer Dawn Brancheau Killed
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Vol XCIII, No. 311
Seaworld Death Sparks Documentary
1964: SeaWorld San Diego opened.
1965: Acquisition of the original Shamu.
1970: SeaWorld Ohio opened.
1972: Marine Mammal Protection Act
1973: SeaWorld Orlando opened.
1985: - Shamu Stadium built (Orlando).
- SeaWorld had 3.1 million visitors.
- First captive Orca birth
1986: SeaWorld San Diego Shamu Stadium
1988: SeaWorld San Antonio opened.
1989: Anheuser-Bush purchased SeaWorld
1993: Enviornmental Excellence Awards program launched.
1997: 'Journey to Atlantis'
2001: SeaWorld Ohio sold to Six Flags.
2003: SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund launched.
2009: 'The Manta'
2009: Blackstone Group purchased SeaWorld.
2010: Trainer Dawn Brancheau killed at SeaWorld Orlando.
1999: Death of Daniel Dukes
1991: Death of Keltie Byrne
20-year-old part time trainer & student at Sealand (Canada)
Tilikum & two other whales involved in death.
Tilikum sold to SeaWorld & Sealand closed shortly after.
Official autopsy findings: "27-year-old white male found drowned in a whale's pool at SeaWorld.
I. Drowning
II.Abrasions, contusions and lacerations
III. Postmortem abrasions, laceration and avulsion of the scrotum with testes."
-OSHA, 2006
August 7, 2002
More Prodromes
28-year-old Tamaree was pulled into the water by two whales, Orkid & Splash.
The trainer suffered a broken arm.
November 11, 2006
Head trainer Ken Peters held underwater by Kasatka.
Peters suffered multiple puncture wounds and a broken foot.
Documentary premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival
Later picked up by CNN Films for wider release.
Target Audiences:
1. Employees of SeaWorld Orlando
2. Consumers/Florida tourists
3. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
1. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment CEO & President Jim Atchison gave a press conference promising a full investigation into the circumstances leading to Dawn's death.
2. "Blackfish analysis: Misleading and/or Inaccurate Content": A 32 page analysis of the documentary published to SeaWorld's website.

4. SeaWorld issued a response letter/ full page ad in newspapers across the country including six main points that contradict the claims in Blackfish.
SeaWorld does not capture killer whales in the wild.
SeaWorld does not seperate killer whale moms and calves.
SeaWorld invests millions of dollars in the care of their killer whales.
SeaWorld's killer whales' life spans are equivalent to those in the wild.
The killer whales in SeaWorld's care benefit those in the wild.
SeaWorld is a world leader in animal rescue.

3. "Truth About Blackfish" portion of SeaWorld's website: This section includes a collection of materials created in response to the documentary including sections on killer whale care, science and research, global impact and videos.
5. SeaWorld created a series of videos disputing the claims made in Blackfish:
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Vol XCIII, No. 311
February 24, 2010:
Trainer Dawn Brancheau killed by Tilikum

February 2012, The days following Dawn's death:
- The Orange County Sheriff's Office claims Dawn slipped and fell into the pool with Tilikum, eyewitnesses disagree.
-A former top training executive at SeaWorld gave multiple print and television interviews saying Dawn put herself in too vulnerable of a position.
- An expert witness recruited by SeaWorld claimed that Dawn was at fault for letting her ponytail float near Tilikum's mouth.

January 2013:
Blackfish premieres at Sundance Film Festival

Summer 2013:
Prior to Blackfish's theater release, SeaWorld issues an email to movie critics claiming allegations made in the documentary are false.

July 2013:
Blackfish released in theaters.

October 2013:
Blackfish airs on CNN in front of largest audience yet.

We could take our Shamu show in Orlando and probably show in Malaysia or Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
-Jim Atchison, SeaWorld CEO
What we would have done:
Three C's of Crisis Planning
December 31, 2013:
SeaWorld is caught manipulating a public opinion poll in The Orlando Business Journal that asked if Blackfish affected the way people view the company. (54% of survey responses came from a SeaWorld IP address)
December 2013:
SeaWorld releases "Truth About Blackfish" letter

January 2014:
Stephen Schwarzmann, a top executive at SeaWorld's largest shareholder, The Blackstone Group, suggested in an interview on CNBC that Dawn should be blamed for her death. He claimed that SeaWorld "had one safety lapse, interestingly, with a situation where the person involved violated all the safety rules that we had."

March 2014:
Richard Bloom, California legislator proposes a bill to ban orca whale captivity.

1. Accepted interview with Blackfish
2. Responded sooner
3. Accepted responsibility and apologized
4. Addressed all accusations
5. Been more transparent
6. Been proactive rather than defensive
7. Listened to & interacted with audience
SeaWorld was once a credible source
Blackfish threatened their credibility
Lost credibility with investors
SeaWorld made a delayed attempt to restore credibility
SeaWorld ignored the crisis for so long, they lost control of the situation
SeaWorld seemed slightly compassionate about Dawn's death
They are, for the most part, ignoring the ethical issue of animals in captivity
Their apparent lack of compassion is SeaWorld's largest problem
Enabling Publics:
Jim Atchison:
Director, CEO & President of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment since 2009
President & Chief Operating Officer of Busch Entertainment from 2007-2009
Executive Vice President & General Manager of SeaWorld Orlando from 2003-2007
Dan Brown:
Chief Operating Officer of SeaWorld & Discovery Cove since 2010
Park President of SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cover and Aquatica from 2007-2010
Functional Publics:
Consumers (visitors/tourists)
Normative Publics:
Other area theme parks (Disney World, Universal Studios)
Similar companies (aquariums, marine parks)
Diffused Publics:
Community businesses in Orlando
Hotels in surrounding area
Crisis Communication Theories
Used when organizations want to "defend their reputation and protect (their) image. But it is not necessarily an apology" (Fearn-Banks).
SeaWorld did not apologize, they attempted to explain their side of the story & shift the blame.
'Redefinition' was used, which is when an "organization may communicate to its public(s) that it did not 'intend' to commit the misdeed" (Fearn-Banks).
SeaWorld insisted Dawn's death was an accident & in no way preventable.
Apologia Theory
"The organization determines what is threatening reputation or image and also determines which publics must be addressed and persuaded in order to maintain and restore positive image" (Fearn-Banks).
All five of the image restoration strategies were used:
: SeaWorld denied almost all Blackfish claims.
Evasion of Responsibility
: SeaWorld first claimed Dawn slipped & fell, next they blamed her ponytail. They said all safety precautions were enforced.
Reducing Offensiveness
: SeaWorld claimed this was a one-time-only 'freak' accident.

Corrective Action
: SeaWorld was forced by OSHA to take corrective action and separate trainers from being in tanks with whales.
: SeaWorld claims to be mortified by Dawn's death & the documentary's claims.
Organization acknowledges feedback from the public but "does not change as a result of communications management." The organization "knows best" & believes "that publics should adhere to the organization's viewpoints" (Fearn-Banks).
SeaWorld's response is limited to the denial of dangerous conditions and does not address the real public concerns.
They are speaking at the public, not with them.
Image Restoration Theory
Two-way Asymmetric Model
The Blackfish Effect
Artists including Trace Adkins, Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, Barenaked Ladies, Cheap Trick and Heart pulled out of SeaWorld's annual 'Bands, Brews & BBQ' concert series.
I'm among the millions who
saw Blackfish & am sickened that my music was blasted without my permission at sound-sensitive marine mammals.
Joan Jett demanded her song 'I Love Rock n' Roll' be removed from the park's 'Shamu Rocks' show.
Performance of SeaWorld's Shares
Stock price dropped 30% in just one day this August after SeaWorld announced their second quarter earnings.
Southwest Airlines ended a 26 year partnership with SeaWorld.
-Hyundai Communications Executive Director, Chris Hosford
Hyundai Motor "has ended its relationship with SeaWorld."
Taco Bell recently severed ties with the company.
Protests and petitions have been launched against having a SeaWorld float at the annual Macy's Thanksgiving parade.
What's Next?
The Blue World Project:
A 50-foot deep, 10 million gallon tank expansion plan.
August 13, 2014:
SeaWorld releases earnings report showing substantial losses after the Blackfish release. According to the New York Times, this sent their stock price plummeting down more than 30% the day the report was released.

October 2014:
Lawsuit filed against SeaWorld that alleges SeaWorld failed to disclose information to its investors.
Full transcript