Last week SeaWorld became the latest institution to have a Twitter campaign spectacularly backfire, with their #AskSeaWorld hashtag drawing exactly the kind of attention they were hoping to avoid.

According to SeaWorld’s blog, the campaign was intended to be ‘a new effort to cut through the misinformation’ surrounding the aquatic park following the release of damning documentary Blackfish in 2013.

People were invited to tweet SeaWorld with their questions, but straight away the company’s critics stormed in and began ruining the fun.

Considering the huge amount of bad press SeaWorld has been garnering lately, it seems pretty phenomenal that no-one predicted this hashtag might go awry. SeaWorld has labelled the critics ‘trolls’, and reported that ‘A full 70 percent of the questions thus far have come from PETA and other animal rights groups or bots’.

In truth, we can’t help but feel sort of sorry for the poor schmuck of an intern currently tasked with manning the SeaWorld Twitter account. But then, we remember that this is the Twitter account of an animal park that keeps 12,000 pound Orcas in tanks, and expects them to splash for their supper. And suddenly we don’t feel quite so charitable.

Blackfish has had an undeniable effect on SeaWorld since its release. The company’s stock has gone down like a lead zeppelin, legislation has been proposed in California that may see Orcas banned from performing in shows for good, and people are gradually beginning to vote with their feet, with fewer and fewer electing to visit SeaWorld’s parks.

The bulk of SeaWorld’s attempts at defending themselves following the release of Blackfish have in reality been efforts simply to denigrate the documentary. There’s an entire section on their website dedicated to picking holes in the film, and they have been replying to some Blackfish related tweets with links to YouTube videos such as this one:

Current SeaWorld trainer Holly Byrd talks about footage of her that was combined with someone else’s voiceover, giving some Blackfish viewers the impression that the person speaking (Sam Berg) was also the person in the footage (Byrd).

In fact, a whole lot of the bad things that SeaWorld has to say about Blackfish seem to be of this nature; the editing makes it seem as though this or that event happened differently, the film implies that this event happened earlier or later than it actually did, the film makes it seem as though footage is related to an event being described in a voiceover, when actually it isn’t.

All of which begs the question: does anyone at SeaWorld actually understand how documentaries work? The film is factual, yes, but it still has to follow a story arc of some kind in order to get its point across, and footage for each and every ‘scene’ isn’t necessarily available.

To address the complaints made in the above video, for example, Blackfish never states that Berg is the person in the footage; that footage is simply used as an example of a similar event to the one she’s describing. That, and anyone watching the documentary with half an eye open could see that the woman being interviewed is not the woman standing on the back of the whale. Frankly, it seems as though quite a lot of SeaWorld’s objections could be explained away by one quick film studies lecture.

And besides, all SeaWorld’s nit-picking demonstrates is just how badly they’ve missed the point. In fact, SeaWorld couldn’t find the point if you stapled it to their forehead and gave them a map.

It doesn’t really matter if some viewers might have come away thinking they had seen footage of an event that was being described, when actually all they had seen was footage of a similar event. What matters is that keeping whales in tanks is wrong. You don’t have to be a hard-core animal rights activist to see that the word ‘whale’ and the word ‘tank’ shouldn’t ever need to be used in the same sentence. When you get right down to it, that’s the only thing that counts in all this uproar. It’s really that simple.

With the tide finally turning against SeaWorld in such a big way, it seems inevitable that cetacean captivity will soon be a thing of the past. If the Ringling Brothers could finally give up their elephants, then maybe SeaWorld can one day empty their tanks.

Sources: Bloomberg.com | Mic.com | Seaworld.com
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