In a recent in-depth New York Magazine feature, writer Benjamin Wallace traced the downfall of troubled aquatic park SeaWorld. Wallace examined the life of Tilikum—the 35-year-old orca made famous by documentary film Blackfish for killing SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. The story revealed how the abuse inherent in the use of marine mammals for entertainment unraveled public opinion—dramatically reducing attendance, profits, and endorsements—and ultimately forced SeaWorld to cease capturing and breeding whales in captivity. Wallace followed the doomed company’s tactics at regaining their status—including sending an employee to infiltrate activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to gather intelligence. Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite revealed SeaWorld actively attempted to disparage the documentary, claiming it was motivated by greed. However, Cowperthwaite explained that “for so long, people had been telling themselves this story they could live with, of a happy, thriving Shamu, but at the end of the day, this 50-year experiment did not work. The most important thing we learned was they don’t belong in captivity.”
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