By Carin Warner, Founder, Warner Communications
Sea World has announced the end of their captive breeding program, which is certainly a step in the right direction. However, this announcement comes only after officials at the California Coastal Commission had already ruled against them. Therefore, the public may feel that the company is only now taking action because they are forced to do so. Interestingly, SeaWorld had recently expanded their Orca tanks, admitting that they actually planned to breed even more Orcas.
We do appreciate that Sea World is trying to respond to the overwhelming concern by animal rights activists, and the general public, with this announcement. However, while this may appear to be a step in the right direction, in many ways it does not affect real change, and could actually result in even more negative consumer sentiment.
Perhaps most damning is Sea World’s pledge to end the Orca show in San Diego, while saying that these changes will not be rolled out to other markets. So when you consider the fact that Orcas have a life expectancy of approximately 50 years, the reality is that the remaining whales will likely continue as “show” animals for many years to come.
From a crisis communications standpoint, there is nothing worse than being deceptive. Today’s plugged in public is very familiar with “green washing” when it comes to environmental concerns. They will see right through Sea World’s insincere actions, and the negative outcry against them could end up being even worse as a result.
If SeaWorld truly wants to win over public sentiment again they need to actually do the right thing for these vastly intelligent and social mammals. It’s amazing how often the right moral move is also the best public relations move. End the Orca show worldwide. Just stopping it in San Diego would be like Chipotle making changes only to the specific restaurants where E. Coli outbreaks occurred, and not changing their chain wide food safety procedures.
While there is debate as to whether the captive Orcas should be released into the wild, the least SeaWorld should do is re-establish the animals in coastal sanctuaries where they could experience life that resembles that found in the wild.
It is simply not enough in today’s world, with an educated and plugged in public, to issue superficial announcements. It’s not enough to just say you’re making changes. Organizations need to lead while taking action. Anything less will receive a negative backlash from the public when seen through their scrutinizing lens.