Have you see the movie “Blackfish” about Sea World? It is about the captivity and trauma that the killer whales at SeaWorld Parks endure. Here is a site where you can see a trailer for the film. I was glad to see that Willie Nelson, and bands Barenaked Ladies and Heart cancelled their appearances at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. They cancelled citing the “Blackfish” documentary.
At one time we had a Sea World about an hour away at Aurora, Ohio but it closed several years ago. In 2001 I wrote an investigative piece about Shamu the killer whale for the late great Impact the Rank and File Newsletter. The piece was on Shamu losing his job in Aurora and being transferred elsewhere. I will reprinted it below.
Fishing For Answers
On January 2001, Busch Entertainment Corporation sold Sea World Ohio to Six Flags Inc. The whales, dolphins, and penguins were moved to other Sea World parks. Six Flags kept all the other marine mammals, fish, birds, etc. and all the shows and buildings, but not the Sea World name. The park reopened as part of the nearby Six Flags Lake Geauga theme park. The new combined park was known as Six Flags Worlds of Adventure. Six Flags brought in dolphins from one of their other parks so they could have a dolphin show. The second season saw the addition of a killer whale to their collection, an attempt to bring back most of the shows and exhibits familiar to visitors of the old Sea World Park.
Eventually, Six Flags sold out to Cedar Fair, who renamed the park Geauga Lake, ditched the animal park and turned that area into a waterpark. After a couple of under performing seasons, at the end of 2007 Cedar Fair gave up on the concept of having a ride park and a waterpark in one and shut down the ride portion of the park.
In 2001 when Shamu was deported I did the following investigative piece of journalism:
The last two weeks of January have seen major mergers, layoffs and closings. There have been thousands laid off at Chrysler, 15,000 at GM, 16,000 at Lucent Technologies, and 5,300 jobs are gone as JC Penney’s closes 47 stores. Here in the Youngstown area we have layoffs at WCI, Lordstown, Packard, and possibly a plant closing at CSC.
Some of the job losses are through attrition and early retirement offers. Another thing that happens to many people because of mergers and closings is job transfers. Being uprooted because of a job transfer can be hard on a family. It’s sad to say goodbye to friends and family and pick up and start all over again, and that’s what I want to address. This week one of the saddest victims of a company buyout actually happened here in NE Ohio. That was nearby Sea World of Aurora, Ohio, the 232-acre marine park owned by Anheuser-Busch Inc. being bought by Six Flags Inc. for $110 million. The sad victims of the buyout are the animals at the park who are going to be relocated.
Another victim is the park’s annual 1.4 million visitors. Six Flags does plan to keep operating the attraction as a marine park, under a new name. Unfortunately, Sea World’s three killer whales, including Shamu the signature of the park, along with the park’s penguins and its ten Bottlenose and Commersen’s dolphins, will be relocated to other Busch theme parks. I will be left like many parents, trying to explain to my children what happened to Shamu the Killer Whale and his friends when we make our annual voyage to the park.
I decided to do some investigative journalism so I made the hour journey to the park. I entered the park and headed to Shamu Stadium to see the big guy himself. Many killer whales have played the 30 -year -old part of Shamu. 4100 lb. Keet now plays the part. He sadly confided, “I’ve never got my own recognition but had to live up to a dead whale’s legacy. Now to add further insult they’re moving me. My namesakes have been making a large splash here since the park opened in 1970. I have been a good employee, whose loyalty has reached great depths. Hell, I’ve jumped through hoops to please management and audiences alike.” He added, “I’ve been here 8 years, but so much for seniority when corporate America enters the pool. I have resented the term killer whale my whole life but right now because I’m going to be moved away from what is my home I’m in a killing mood.”
Next I went to interview the dolphins that are also being moved. A Bottlenose dolphin that asked me not to use his name greeted me warmly. I told him I had already talked to Shamu. He replied, “Shamu is a sham, there’s no such thing as killer whales. They’re just fat dolphins. Beluga whales, Bottlenose and Pacific dolphins were all part of the Odontoceti family. Shamu is touted as the big star around here so he’s developed a swelled head.”
I asked, “How does management treat the animals in the park?” He replied, “Management likes keeping the animals in the park divided and fighting amongst themselves over food, accommodations and billing. It’s the old divide and conquer strategy, just like a page out of Machiavelli’s, “The Prince.” “We know the bosses have been making a fortune off of our talents and energy for years telling us we’re all family. Family, my fin, now we know we’re nothing but wage slaves.” He continued, “Unfortunately the animals here never stuck together. It’s a funny thing about solidarity. In the wild we dolphins travel in packs of twenty and killer whales travel in packs of up to thirty and by damn it we watched each other’s backs. There’s no solidarity here in captivity. Natural instincts in the wild like compassion and respect were replaced in captivity by greed and the quest for the easy life. We had someone to feed us so we became complacent, thinking only of ourselves and pleasing management.”
He continued on, “A few years back one of my Hollywood friends, Flipper came here trying to organize us animals into the screen actors union. Many of us were interested but management started threatening us. Shamu also opposed it so he started throwing his weight around, all two tons. We all respect the sea turtles that live here because of their age so we turned to them on this issue. Let me tell you age does not mean wisdom. Two hundred year old turtles are in no hurry for change. On top of that it was impossible to convince spineless jellyfish and sharks with cartilage where their spine should be that a union would be a good thing. Sea World ended up hiring a couple of thugs from Arthur Treacher’s and the next thing you know Flipper disappeared. The word is he was breaded deep-fried and served with a side of chips.”
He added, “If any of us animals dares speak up about how management is making huge profits while we are fed stale herring we’re read the riot act. They say we’re unappreciative and unpatriotic and accuse us of talking class warfare. The truth is a class war is going on and it’s being waged against us and if we don’t wake up to it we’ve already lost.” I exit, now realizing why dolphins are called the smartest of all animals.
I next stop at the Penguin Encounter a 45,000-gallon icy sea pool. I encountered one hundred of the formally dressed regal residents. I address an emperor penguin as to how he feels about being moved from his home. He answers, “Two of the four species of penguins at the park will be transferred we are being kept in the dark about which two species. It’s par for the course because over the years management here has done all it can to agitate racism between the four species.”
He goes on to tell me he feels betrayed not just by management but also by the visitors and children who come to the park. He explains, “The visitors should have formed a picket line demanding that all the animals should be allowed to remain here at the park. Management knew what they were doing as far as the timing of the parks sale. They did it at this time of the year because it’s football season. The public is too wrapped up in the Super Bowl to care about what injustices are happening in the animal world. After all, humans don’t even care about injustices in their own world like the recent hijacking of the presidential election.” He ended by saying, “We penguins are at heart social animals that live in colonies. So, I’m going to miss my brothers. Hell, I’m a penguin, you think I want to be transferred to somewhere like Florida?”
On my way out of the park I stopped by the employee’s lounge where I found many of the parks animals taking a coffee and sardine break. I questioned the animals about the park’s sale and about the soon to be departure of many of their friends. A sea lion named Clyde complained about management, “They have stooped so low as to watch many of the animals breed.” “Yeah,” chimed in his friend Seamore, “They’re a bunch of sick peeping Tom bastards.” An octopus told me he’d like to help stop the animals from leaving but felt his hands were tied. Tunas expressed fear of ending up between two slices of bread at the concession stand. On top of that the park’s waterfowl were in a foul mood and lobsters were seeing red. One otter commented, “And sushi think they got a raw deal?” Sharks said they feared for some time that corporate raiders were circling the park. With their keen sense of smell the sharks were the first to smell the blood in the water scent of a corporate takeover. In the end, the sharks at Sea World were no match for the predator sharks from Wall Street.
As I write this none of the animals at the park feel they have a safe harbor. Yet, something they all expressed makes me think they can look forward to a better future. That is the idea that if you feed a fish you control him, but if a fish organizes he can control his own life. To end my sad tale I say goodbye Shamu and friends my family will miss you.
Taj Mahal: “Gone Fishin’”
“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” ~ Gloria Steinem