Saturday, January 25, 2014

2007 KGTV SeaWorld Investigation called "Secrets Below the Surface"

This fascinating article, with accompanying Q&A, first appeared here on 29 May 2007. It is particularly interesting to review its contents with the advantage of hindsight, in the wake of the 2010 tragedy, an ongoing OSHA investigation, and Blackfish. Thank you to KGTV.


2007 SeaWorld Investigation: Secrets Below The Surface

10News Looks Into SeaWorld During 7-Month Investigation

Posted: 05/29/2007

SeaWorld is a San Diego landmark, a cheerfully choreographed and skillfully marketed celebration of the sea.

Millions of visitors -- locals and tourists -- know very little about an industry built on the capture of killer whales, dolphins and other sea creatures.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said, “I would describe the whole captive industry as being very secretive.”

10News began investigating the park following the killer whale attack during the Shamus how last November.

Investigators spent months obtaining and researching court records, safety reports, animal inventory reports and documents related to the various owners of SeaWorld over the years.

10News traveled to Washington state to learn more about the killer whale, the centerpiece of a billion-dollar business, and the man who started it all, killer whale hunter Ted Griffin, the man who captured the first Shamu.

Namu was the 1st orca captured for profit, 1965
Whales die in the hunt, that's true,” said whale hunter Ted Griffin.

In 1965, in the water alongside Seattle’s Pier 56, was the first ever killer whale performing show. It was the precursor to the Shamu success. The star of the show was a 20-year-old Orca named Namu.

Griffin captured Namu, trained him, rode him and showed people for the first time that killer whales were not evil but wonderful, intelligent mammals.

Griffin caught Shamu later that same year.

Griffin took film of the original Shamu to San Diego. At first, he leased the whale to SeaWorld, he said, because the park was afraid the whale would not survive for long. However, when Shamu became an instant hit, SeaWorld bought her outright for $100,000.

“I was interested in the whales and interested in making a good profit on selling the whales,” said Griffin.

Griffin made no apologies about the whales that died in the hunt, including Shamu’s mother. Griffin shot her with a harpoon and she drowned.

SeaWorld’s current owners, who had no involvement, said it is a sad, ancient history.

Brad Andrews, Vice President of Zoological Operations with Busch Entertainment said, “I am not even aware of the stories told back then and the validity of them, so I can’t comment on something that happened that long ago.”

Griffin was also blunt about the cover-ups that were orchestrated by himself and his hunting partner, Don Goldsberry. Goldsberry ended up working for SeaWorld, assigned to bring whales to the park. He was eventually barred from Washington waters because he hunted killer whales with explosives.

"If I have dead whales, I'm going to conceal it from the public, which is what I did,” said Griffin.

Griffin admitted at one time he and Goldsberry herded three full families of whales into a cove in Puget Sound, trapping them in nets. Three young whales and one adult tangled in the nets and drowned.

"I have 4 dead whales, what am I going to do with them?” said Griffin. What Griffin and Goldsberry did is well-documented.

Balcomb said, “They hired divers to slit open the bellies, fill them with rocks, put anchors around their tails, and sank them at night."

Balcomb runs the Center for Whale Research in Puget Sound where 49 whales were taken from the wild population.

"There's only 1 left, Lolita in the Miami Seaquarium. Basically, they've all died in captivity,” said Kelley Balcomb-Bartok of the Center for Whale Research.

Records from the center showed the whales died from pneumonia, drowning and infections. SeaWorld’s original Shamu died from an infection of her blood and uterus after living 6 years in captivity. She was the first of 51 Shamus.

Today’'s SeaWorld is a much-improved and healthier place for the whales.

Andrews said, “What’s really changed over the years are the husbandry techniques, the veterinary care, just like the evolution of modern medicine for people.”

That first Shamu’s legacy is the park today -- the largest and most successful in the world.

Andrews said SeaWorld has always been a healthy place for whales, but some documents 10News found tell another story.

10News found records during a 7-month investigation that SeaWorld has worked hard to keep out of public view.

Fascinating Q&A Session Below 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Blackfish Behind the Scenes


Category: Sammi's Interviews, Published on Saturday, 18 January 2014 03:53



Blackfish: a work of personal transformation and courage “People are capable of changing what they do”

Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. Along the way, director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the multi-billion dollar sea-park industry. This emotionally wrenching story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and the ethics of capturing, breeding, and keeping captive these sentient fellow mammals.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite with Dr John Jett in Park City, Utah
Banned together in the movement called Voice Of The Orcas, are Blackfish Cast and Former SeaWorld Orca Trainers: Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, Carol Ray, Samantha Berg, and Dr. John Jett. Voice Of The Orcas (VOTO) is a group of like-minded individuals working for the betterment of large captive marine mammals, and VOTO provides education and information as to how concerned people can help. The founding members of VOTO have this unified message, 

“Through experiencing captivity first-hand, we came to the conclusion that it is wrong.”

The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2013, and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures, Dogwoof, and CNN Films for wider release, and has since been was released on DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and Netflix.

Gabriela at the Los Angeles Premier
Since it’s release, the film has inspired many people to change their ideas on marine parks and many want to learn more about the conditions and ethics of captivity. From famous celebrities speaking out on Twitter, protests outside venues where whales are held in captivity, to changes to Pixar's upcoming “Finding Nemo” sequel entitled “Finding Dory”. And a wave of activity has also caught the headlines as recording artists and bands scheduled to perform at SeaWorld Orlando in 2014 have cancelled their upcoming gigs, including: Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, Trisha Yearwood, REO Speedwagon, Martina McBride, 38 Special, and Trace Adkins. 

I had the opportunity to interview the filmmaker of Blackfish, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, and the cast. Here’s what they had to say…

Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Filmmaker, “Blackfish”

What was the most important thing you learned from creating this documentary?  

Carol Ray & Gabriela Cowperthwaite in New York City 

I learned that people are capable of changing what they do, how they feel, if you tell them the truth. What does that say about humanity? It says that despite our differences, our impasses, we're all generally looking to be better. I think that's amazing. 

Jeff Friedman,  Manny Oteyza, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, & John Jett under some palm trees in Florida

And what did you learn about yourself through the process?

I think I realized that in this life, I want to leave things better than I find them. I didn't realize until well into the research that I was making a controversial documentary. Once I realized this and recognized the risks of taking on a billion dollar cultural icon, I said, "I can't make this documentary, I have kids." Shortly thereafter, I told myself "I have to make this documentary. I have kids." 

What will you work on next?
Some things are brewing, but right now I'm focused on making sure Blackfish continues to do good work out there in the world.

Former trainers & Blackfish cast Jeffrey Ventre, Dean Gomersall & Carol Ray on a Whale Watching Boat together

Jeffrey Ventre MD, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist

If you could give a direct request to SeaWorld, what would it be?

SeaWorld, please shift your attention from captive breeding to real world conservation. The Southern Resident orca population is endangered partly due to your collections from 1965 to 1976. Use your resources to help restore wild Chinook salmon, the main food of these killer whales. Help educate boaters to give these social creatures the space they need to forage and communicate. 

Jeff &John are on the red carpet for the Sarasota Film Festival; Opening Night at the Van Wezel Performance Art Hall

What can be done now for the orcas in captivity?

In regard to your (SeaWorld’s) current captives, let them live out their lives in dignity, without the circus stunts, pop music, and choreographed tricks. Place fertile females on oral contraceptives, and investigate the notion of sea pens for those animals that may qualify.

Carol Ray MA, CCC-SLP, Speech Pathologist

What does your family think of your involvement in Blackfish and the movement to help orcas? 

I come from a family of animal lovers, and they are very proud of my voice for the orcas and believe real good can come from me sharing my unique experiences. They've been so heartened to see the response to the film, world wide, and they share my hope that we will see an end to captivity in the near future. 

Carol Ray and Samantha Berg at a theater in Hollywood 

What do you hope people learn from watching this film? 

I hope that people gain a better understanding as to why orcas do not belong anywhere but in the wild. I hope people learn that Dawn's (Dawn Brancheau) death was an unnecessary tragedy, as is Tilikum's life. I hope that a new generation of children around the world will grow up understanding that it is morally unacceptable to confine such social, intelligent, self-aware and emotional beings for our entertainment and amusement.

Blackfish cast Jeffrey Ventre, Samantha Berg, & Carol Ray about to shred a mountain pass in Park City, Utah

Samantha Berg M.Ac, L.Ac, Acupuncturist

Tell Blackfish fans and supporters what they can do to help these orcas?

After watching Blackfish the most important thing you can do is DON'T BUY A TICKET (to SeaWorld or other marine parks with Orcas in captivity). Don't support any marine parks or aquariums the keep large marine mammals in captivity and tell all of your friends to watch "Blackfish" and read "Death at SeaWorld" (author: David Kirby).

Samantha Berg answers media questions in New York 

People can also visit the Voice of the Orcas "Blackfish Landing Pad HERE

This site lists things that everyone can do, including contacting your local politicians and encouraging all marine parks to stop their captive breeding programs. We have also included a list of established Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) who are already doing great animal welfare/anti-captivity work. It's important to support these organizations in any way you can. If contributing funds is not an option, most NGO's appreciate any volunteer time you can offer to help further the cause. 

Samantha Berg, Jeffrey Ventre, Carol Ray

How can folks join the movement and get future updates? 

People are welcome to contact us (VOTO) with specific questions via the Voice Of The Orcas website where we have posted plenty of information and materials to help people understand the realities of killer whale captivity. 
And you can follow us on twitter @Voice_OT_Orcas 

Jeff & Sam get ready to unfurl the Blackfish Poster in Orlando 

John Jett PhD, Research Professor

What risks personally and professionally did you consider when deciding to go public with the story told in Blackfish?

Jeff Ventre and I began speaking and writing about the realities of killer whale captivity prior to Blackfish. In fact our discussion, albeit private, began while we were both still employed at SeaWorld, and has continued through the years. I was personally pretty scared of some type of recourse from SeaWorld. My wife wasn’t very supportive of the idea at first as we were both afraid that SeaWorld or the industry would try to make our lives difficult. We’re both dedicated parents and certainly didn’t want our child to be dragged into some kind of mess. 

John Jett, Carol Ray, Samantha Berg at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City

By the way, the kind of recourse we worried about is currently happening at Marineland in Canada. The owner there is suing trainers for speaking out and telling the truth as they experienced and witnessed. In the end though, we (Jeff, my wife and I) knew it was our responsibility to speak the truth. Professionally, I was worried that my university wouldn’t support me. I approached them early on in the process; they ensured me that I had nothing to worry about as long as I told the truth. I’ve certainly appreciated their support. 

Drs John Jett & Jeffrey Ventre sandwich Samantha Berg at Sundance 

By the time Blackfish was released we had already been discussing the issue for some time so I was less worried about it. By then, the circle of people speaking out was also much larger, and I felt somewhat insulated by the fact that we were, independently, all saying the same things. 

Dr John Jett  on the beach
What else do people need to know that they may not already?

People need to know that stepping out and telling the truth is scary, especially when going against a huge corporation with endless pockets, and it is my belief, a vested interest in assassinating one’s character in an effort to maintain the status quo. It’s been scary for me because I have a family and a career to consider. I have a lot to lose. It’s easy to see why employees are afraid to speak out when they know things are wrong. 

I get it.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ballot Stuffing in Orlando and Censorship at FORBES

Trying to untangle itself from its 50 year history of misinformation, SeaWorld ramps up its use of questionable tactics to control the flow of information; including intimidating journalists via corporate power-plays & stuffing ballot boxes related to public opinion. As reported by CNN: 

(CNN) -- Maybe it's not surprising that in SeaWorld's hometown of Orlando, an online poll showed overwhelming support for the theme park in light of a recent documentary that has raised questions about its treatment of killer whales. 
What has turned heads, though, is the fact that more than half of the votes appeared to have come from a computer, or computers, at SeaWorld itself. 
On December 31, the Orlando Business Journal posted an unscientific poll asking, "Has CNN's 'Blackfish' documentary changed your perception of SeaWorld?"
By midday Thursday, the paper reported, an overwhelming 99% of respondents said "no," their opinion of the beloved park had not changed.
What the Journal discovered upon a closer look, though, was that 54% of those 328 votes had been cast from a single Internet Protocol (IP) address.
An IP address is an identifier that can represent either a single computer or a connected network of them.

At Voice of the Orcas we're familiar with SeaWorld's heavy handed tactics. When we worked in the animal training department, "waterwork" was routinely used as a tool to train employee compliance, like dangling a carrot in front of a horse. According to David Kirby's investigative journalism for his book Death at SeaWorld, it was even used by senior trainers to obtain sexual favors for those one day hoping to "ride Shamu." Although we never witnessed this personally, it is in line with the culture, and a lawsuit was filed. 

[For reference, we've learned that Death at SeaWorld is in it's 5th printing in the United States, and is sold out of it's sixth printing in the United Kingdom]. 

We once strove to work with the #Blackfish at Shamu Stadium and noticed that those who didn't pull the company line were "shipped to Sea Lion & Otter," or withheld from waterwork, or terminated. Hence, we are thankful that Blackfish & Death at SeaWorld have pulled back the curtain on SeaWorld's business model, which includes incarcerating cetaceans, polar bears, and pinnepeds, for profit. Through it's massive public relations team, this corporation has been selling the "Happy Shamu" mythology for five decades. Please watch the CNN report below for more on this first story: 


The second demonstration of corporate malfeasance (in the past 24 hrs) has to do with censorship at F-O-R-B-E-S magazine. After he "rattled some corporate cages" by writing a pro-Blackfish article viewed 77 thousand time, Forbes journalist James McWilliams was censored, and resigned his position; in his words:  

Well folks, I suppose it was bound to happen. I wrote a dozen pieces for and enjoyed it very much. But the 13th–an article critical of SeaWorld (a 2.5 billion dollar company partially owned by the Blackstone Group) and praiseworthy of ‘Blackfish” (made on a small budget)–rattled some corporate cages. 
After I posted, editorial management demanded changes that I could not, in good conscience, make. So the article got pulled (after 77,000 hits in one day) and I left my position. Honestly, the experience, brief as it was, was a good one. Until today, when it wasn’t. My immediate editor was terrific.
But, in the end, McWilliams and mismatch.

The author, James McWilliams can be reached at @the_pitchfork. Here are a just few reactions at his blog, where he has republished the original article

Lauren says:
Mr. McWilliams: #Blackfish opened my eyes…wide…to the cruelty of capture, isolation and exploitation of these magnificent creatures. Your article is on point and I want you to know that you have this reader’s… and now determined animal rights activist…respect and admiration. Thank you.

Kimberly Ventre says:
Hats off to you for writing the truth. Corporations like Forbes, Blackstone, and SeaWorld are so used to “controlling the narrative” they don’t know what to do when facts and science don’t support their story.
It would be great to know what they wanted you to change. I suspect they are unhappy to read that preteen generation has taken notice of Blackfish.

Tracy says:
Thank you for this article, for taking a stand, and for refusing to compromise your standards. You acted in a truly admirable way, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for you. I’m so sorry that you now have to deal with looking for a new position, however my hope for you is that you will find one with a company that will appreciate the fact that their writers are willing to use their voice and are unwilling to compromise in order to satisfy the need by a corporation to shut up, and shut down a truth that the world so desperately needs to know. Whether you believe what you did was a big thing or not (I hope you do) please know that today you stood up for those who do not have a voice, and if they did I’m sure they would be thanking you. I’m sure you made your son proud.

Good for you, and Thank You James for standing your ground and not caving to corporate political pressure.
Something tells us you’ll do just fine without Forbes and will gain an even larger following of new friends.
Thanks again!

mynamefluffy says:
As someone who has been writing/blogging/tweeting for a while on the marine mammal abuse, slaughter and captivity regarding Sea World and Taiji (and they are connected), I am not at all surprised at this parting of the ways. Sea World has a powerful corporate footprint, and they are scared. The exposure that has come about as a result of Blackfish has removed the proverbial toothpaste from the tube and there is no going back. I have communicated with non-AR people who have said “I’m done with Sea World.” or “I’ll never take my kids there again.” The truth is out now, and they are going to discredit, stifle, or attempt to intimidate any voice bringing this reality to even more people. I actually find this an encouraging sign, aside of course from the end of James’ contributing arrangement with Forbes (which I am sorry to hear about). The fact that Forbes picked this topic as the one to quibble about says something important about the state of pressure and exposure on the important issue of marine mammal abuse and exploitation. ~Linda

Thank you James for your courageous stand against corporate power.