January 3, 2014

Shamu show, San Diego SeaWorld, 2009     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 Forbes.com 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.

More Stories About the Orca Controversy


A UPS driver defends himself against a Turkey in Minneapolis on December 30.     Photo: Snow Biggie/YouTube

Wild Turkey Versus UPS Driver

Bird terrorizes man around FedEx truck

Workers at the University of Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis were treated to a lunchtime show when a local United Parcel Service driver was chased around a FedEx truck by a wild turkey. Scrub-clad workers in the hospital's cafeteria captured the incident on December 30 and uploaded the video to YouTube the next day.

The brown-clad UPS worker fends off the aggressive bird with his jacket while circling the rival company's truck. Finally, the man retreats into his own vehicle, and a passerby charges the wild bird, scaring it away.

Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources estimates that there are more than 70,000 wild turkeys in the state since the species was reintroduced between 1971 and 1973.

"As both the human and turkey populations expand in Minnesota it is only natural to expect that increasing interactions will occur, some of them negative," the department's website says. "Some wild turkeys that reside in urban areas have become acclimated to humans, which can create problems."


Dogs might align themselves with Earth's magnetic field when they eliminate.     Photo: John Steel/Thinkstock

Dogs' Pooping Secrets Revealed

You'll never walk your dog the same way again.

There’s a reason your dog circles before settling on the perfect pooping spot. He’s likely aligning himself with Earth’s magnetic field.

A new study has found that canines have an inner compass that directs them when they’re eliminating.

“Urinating and defecating dogs tend to align their body along the North-South axis,” the researchers told the Huffington Post.

The team watched 70 dogs going about their business 70,000 times before determining that man’s best friend prefers to face due north or south when pooping. The caveat? They only orient themselves this way when the planet’s magnetic field is calm, or about 20 percent of the day.

"We found that dogs are magnetosensitive, and they are predictably disturbed by even small changes of the MF (magnetic field)," Dr. Sabine Begall, a zoologist at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, told HuffPost Science

And it’s not just dogs that have this special sense. Cattle and deer tend to graze along the magnetic field, and birds can navigate by the north-south axis.  


Icebreaker in Antarctica     Photo: Raldi Somers/Thinkstock

Chinese Rescue Ship Now Stuck

Ice freezes Chinese vessel’s return from Antarctic rescue

The Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon, which recently helped rescue 52 passengers from a trapped Australian ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, is now also stuck off the coast of Antartica.

The Aurora Australis, the vessel carrying the rescued passengers to open water, was ordered to stop yesterday in fear that the Chinese vessel would need some rescuing of it own.

The Snow Dragon, which provided the rescue helicopter for the scientists and tourists early this week, is currently attempting to push through thick ice and reach open water, according to reports from Fox News. Although no one is in immediate danger, the Aurora Australis has been ordered to wait about seven miles away in case the Chinese vessel needs assistance.

The Snow Dragon was apparently in sight of the Aurora Australis on Saturday, but was forced to turn back after failing to break through a final section of ice. According to the Chicago Tribune, the ice can be more than ten feet thick in some places.

Both the Snow Dragon and the initially stuck Akademik Shokalskiy vessel will have to wait for a spell of good weather to return to open water. Twenty-two crewmembers remain on the motionless Akademik Shokalskiy, which is carrying enough supplies for several weeks.


    Photo: Getty Images

Hormone Blocks Marijuana Buzz

The World Wonders Why This is a Good Thing

On Thursday, a group of French researchers isolated a hormone that blocks the high you get from weed.

What? Why?

"Their discovery could lead to new approaches to treating marijuana intoxication and addiction," reports the journal Science, in which the study appears.

The steroid hormone, pregnenolone, a molecule generated by the brain, behaves like a natural defense mechanism against the negative impacts of cannabis in animals (such as cognitive loss and laziness). This could be useful in preventing addiction, researchers at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) said.

"We hope to be able to start clinical trials in people in a year to a year and a half," INSERM researcher Pier Vincenzo Piazza told AFP.

So far in the study, the role of the hormone has only been identified in rats, using equivalent doses of cocaine, morphine, nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana for comparison.