Thoughts on SeaWorld and HSUS

JackassSteveOMost people have heard by now that SeaWorld is going to phase out its orca shows following years from pressure from PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, and other animal liberation activists (like Steve-O of “Jackass” fame, at right). A lot of people emailed us in disgust that SeaWorld would partner with HSUS. Having reflected on it, we have a few thoughts.

  1. You should never cave in to terrorism. You don’t stop getting beat up by giving a bully your lunch money. HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle’s inner Mafioso was on full display, warning other businesses in regards to nasty protests from activists that it’s “better to get your business model aligned and just avoid those things.” Economic terrorists understood that SeaWorld investors would eventually cave from bad publicity if sales and their short-term investment was being jeopardized. And agreeing to stop orca shows would not be enough. Public humiliation and self-flagellation are part of the price to get these people to go away.
  2. That said, SeaWorld should’ve had more defenders in the zoo/aquarium community. HSUS picked on SeaWorld as part of a divide-and-conquer strategy. Zoos and aquariums don’t have to defend everything done by a competitor, but the benefits to education and conservation of having large mammals are worth defending loudly. Or having the entire animal exhibition industry join in a SeaWorld defense rather than letting the company have to defend their “apparent” outlier status. Now, some other zoo or aquarium will provide a next target and will be negatively compared to SeaWorld which finally “saw the light”.
  3. Wayne Pacelle picks up more money? SeaWorld announced that it was spending $50 million over 5 years to carry HSUS’s water on things like lobbying campaigns against the Canadian seal hunt and shark finning. In return, SeaWorld gets the protection of HSUS’s endorsement. If you’re an animal rights activist, that has to be somewhat disappointing—much like Pacelle endorsing Michael Vick getting another dog, after Vick’s employer gave $50,000 to HSUS. But if the thing that matters most to you is money, then it’s a worthy trade.
  4. Define the game before your opponents do. This is old political wisdom. But any business should always be setting the tone of the debate. Otherwise, its opponents will—and that’s exactly what happened here (see #2 above). To its credit, SeaWorld management did try to correct the record, but in hindsight it was too little too late.