Bands bail on SeaWorld

ORLANDO, SAN FRANCISCO, TAIJI––Shortlisted for Oscar consideration as “Best Documentary of 2013,” the Gabriela Cowperthwaite exposé of SeaWorld Blackfish between November 28 and December 14, 2013 persuaded all six original headline bands and one of the replacements to withdraw from scheduled performances at the SeaWorld “Bands, Brew & BBQ Fest,” due to begin on February 1, 2014.

The Canadian band Barenaked Ladies was first out of the water, wrote Earth Island Institute International Marine Mammal Project spokesperson Laura Bridgeman, after Mike Garrett, of St. Catherines, Ontario, posted an online petition directed at fans that rapidly collected more than 11,000 signatures.

“We’ve talked things over and decided not to play at SeaWorld at this time,” Barenaked Ladies responded via Facebook. “It’s not about money, but it is about our fans. We listen to them, and they’re important to us.”

Willie Nelson, booked to be the “Bands, Brew & BBQ Fest” opening act, cancelled a week later. SeaWorld claimed Nelson backed out because of a scheduling conflict, but Nelson scuttled that claim in a live telephone interview with Brooke Baldwin of CNN. Nelson acknowledged receiving electronic petitions with 9,000 signatures, including 250 collected by his own great granddaughter.

“I don’t agree with the way they treat their animals,” Nelson said, “so it wasn’t that hard a deal to just cancel. I understand there are some natural habitat zoos out there that are probably okay,” Nelson added, “but SeaWorld is not okay.”

After Nelson came the deluge. REO Speedwagon, Trisha Yearwood, Cheap Trick, Martina McBride, .38 Special, and replacement band Heart all withdrew in rapid succession. In addition, Joan Jett, whose song “I Love Rock `n’ Roll” was formerly used as the opening music for the “Shamu Rocks” theme show, asked SeaWorld President Jim Atchison to refrain from using it again.

“A new nighttime Shamu show is being designed for SeaWorld Orlando, and we had no plans to use any of her music in that show,” responded SeaWorld spokesperson Nick Gollattscheck.

“The value of the bands leaving SeaWorld,” Earth Island Institute International Marine Mammal Project associated director Mark J. Palmer told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “is not from the lack of income for SeaWorld. The value is the publicity all over the place that big-name celebrities don’t like SeaWorld’s treatment of cetaceans. It isn’t our campaign particularly,” Palmer added. “Many individuals formed the nucleus of the response early on, setting up the online petitions. And we have far more in mind than just raising hell among some rock stars.

“SeaWorld directors are selling off their own shares,” Palmer continued. “Their attendance is down from past years. The only reason they are doing well financially is that they raised their prices this year. And SeaWorld is trending away from their animal performanes toward thrill rides and roller coasters. Our goal is total shutdown––yes, an end to captivity.”

The “wildcat strike” by the musicians “happened spontaneously,” added Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry. “It’s free. It’s organic. It’s worth doing because it brings attention to the atrocity of keeping orcas in captivity for casual amusement. It’s already successful because it brings attention to the problem.”

Encouraging musicians to cancel SeaWorld performances “is something we can all do,” OBarry continued, “as opposed to not being able to do anything––which is usually the case with SeaWorld. This is being done by musicians, their fans, and ordinary people who saw Blackfish and The Cove,” the 2009 Oscar-winning exposé directed by Louis Psihoyos that documented dolphin captures and slaughters at Taiji, Japan.

The view from Taiji

O’Barry spoke from Taiji, Japan. “I am up to my ears in blood and guts today,” O’Barry told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “The things that happen here in this cove are quite overwhelming. I don’t have much hair left to pull out. Screaming helps sometimes. “

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has live-streamed video of much of the Taiji dolphin captures and killing this fall and winter, including the December 1, 2013 capture of 75 to 80 bottlenose dolphins. Typically several dolphins from each roundup are selected for sale to marine parks and swim-with-dolphin attractions around the world, while the rest are slaughtered for meat.

“Four different Japanese groups are coming forward and stepping up to do something about this annual dolphin slaughter,” O’Barry told Hannah Sentenac of the Miami New Times in September 2013. “That is historic. I see the time when the Japanese activists will take ownership and I won’t have to go there any more. I’m thrilled about that. It’s really hard to go from here. You go to this remote area of Japan, and you’re basically looking at Dante’s Inferno for dolphins. If you saw The Cove, you’re looking at the Disney version of what happens. When you see it in full color, with the sounds and the smells, you can’t unsee it. And once you get home you’re bringing all these images with you. I’ve been doing that several times a year for the last 11 years. To see the Japanese step up, to me it’s like, finally, it’s light at the end of the tunnel.”