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Big Whale Show, Big Debt Load

Tuesday, February 15, 2011



News comes in this week of the refinancing of SeaWorld as they try to reposition themselves as leaders in educational captive dolphin facilities.
"SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is seeking to refinance most of the roughly $1.5 billion in debt the company took on in late 2009 as part of its sale to private-equity owner Blackstone Group."
Not a good year for SeaWorld.
We do know that the $75,00 fines levied by OSHA against the conglomerate ("willful safety violation for not recognizing hazards that could cause death") last August are being contested. This month marks the one year anniversary of orca trainer Dawn Brancheaus’ death, as a 12,000 pound orca dragged her underwater.
In fact SeaWorld is even asking to seal all testimony for the sure-to-be-heated April hearing but the blogs are abuzz and groups like The Orca Project are calling for transparency.
"In the past, SeaWorld has been successful at maintaining a cloak of secrecy in cases regarding employee injuries," the Orca Project statement said, "and it's expected they will try to follow the same path after the death of their veteran orca trainer nearly one year ago."
This comes on the heels of a detailed report by former SeaWorld trainers Jeffrey Ventre, MD and John Jett, Ph.D, outlining the inherent dangers to animals and trainers in captive situations.
SeaWorld is actively publicizing plans for a new show, set to unveil later this spring. Called "One Ocean" it “features spectacular whale behaviors, including thrilling high-energy leaps and multiple whales performing simultaneously.” It will take place in “Shamu Stadium,” with a “three-story set, panoramic LED screens and hundreds of surround-sound speakers.”
To prepare for "One Ocean," SeaWorld's three Shamu Stadium orca complexes will undergo significant construction, as crews install fountains, paint new color schemes and, in some of the parks, replace oversized video screens.
Credit analysts at Moody's Investor Service said the move would reduce SeaWorld's interest expense by $14 million a year. They also cite “recent attendance weakness” from the February 2010 death of a whale trainer.
We wonder if SeaWorld gets it. This outmoded entertainment form can't be disguised as educational or even conservation themed. The paying audience sees the cruelty and has stopped going.
~Viki Psihoyos~
image courtesy of SeaWorld