Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SeaWorld's Fishy PR Tactics

Company allegedly attempting to skew public opinion

The documentary Blackfish, which details the history of marine mammal abuse and the downplaying of trainer deaths and injuries at the park, has, as one would expect, been a public relations nightmare for SeaWorld.

Now, the theme park is allegedly manipulating public perception of the documentary and its enterprise.

Most recently, a post on by contributor James McWilliams ("SeaWorld's Popularity Tanks As Blackfish Documentary Makes A Splash") was removed from the site approximately a day after publication (Google has cached the original post here).

On January 2, McWilliams put up a post on his personal site admitting that he had been pressured to change the article, then quit after refusing to do so. "Management demanded changes that I could not, in good conscience, make," he writes, adding that his article "rattled some corporate cages."

A source that requested anonymity told Outside that after the article was published editors at Forbes asked McWilliams to draw on empirical evidence to downplay any suggestion of a causal connection between Blackfish's popularity and criticism surrounding SeaWorld—an impossible mandate, according to this source. 

Mia Carbonell, a spokesperson for Forbes Media, said that Blackstone is not a principle investor in Forbes Media, adding:

"In his post, Mr. McWilliams didn't seek comment from SeaWorld, he misinterpreted the company's financial position and he leaned heavily on the work of a controversial author, a decision that made Forbes editors uncomfortable. When Forbes asked Mr. McWilliams to rework the post, he declined to do so and resigned. Forbes has not been contacted by SeaWorld or Blackstone."

A few days earlier, on December 31, the Orlando Business Journal held an online poll asking viewers whether Blackfish had changed their opinion of SeaWorld. A suspiciously large percentage, 99 percent in fact, said that it had not. Given the documentary's profile, writers at the Journal found the numbers to be a little bit suspicious and decided to investigate.

The Journal's staff discovered that 54 percent of the votes had come from one IP address. The owner of that address turned out to be SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

In July, SeaWorld attempted to counter the film's assertions with a press release filled with bogus scientific assertions that were quickly debunked by both the makers of Blackfish and independent sources.

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