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Is The “Blackfish” Battle Over? SeaWorld CEO Announces Resignation

After a long year of battle against animal rights activists, SeaWorld CEO Jim Atchison has announced his resignation as CEO in a press release that was sent out late Thursday evening. After the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish, which featured footage and testimonies from former employees on the mistreatment of animals (particularly orcas), Atchison and the Company received heavy criticism and backlash. Anger over the conditions of animals launched into a fever pitch during last summer, when SeaWorld saw a heavy decline in attendance at its parks.

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If you’re amongst the many who have protested SeaWorld over the last year, now may not be the time to rejoice. Though we’re unsure if Atchison’s resignation was voluntary, it does not signify the end of his ties to SeaWorld. He will now be serving as Vice Chairman of the Board, while Chairman David F. D’Alessandro will serve as the Company’s interim CEO until the Board of Directors elects a permanent successor.

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In the press release, SeaWorld also announced an expansion of its parks and detailed a restructuring program across its entire enterprise stating:

 This effort will centralize some operations, reduce duplication of functions and increase efficiencies and accelerate execution. The restructuring will result in the loss of some positions, and the Company will offer severance benefits to those impacted.

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Like its statements after the release of Blackfish, the company remains vague about its plans for infrastructure.

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Since the release of the film, SeaWorld has countered Blackfish‘s accusations by saying that the filmmakers were undermining the organization, and forgoing the fact that the Company’s mission is helping animals who are incapable of surviving in the wild. SeaWorld called Blackfish‘s release a blatant attack and denied all allegations that any of their animals were mistreated. Their statements were released alongside testimonies of current trainers, who all gushed over the love and friendship they shared with the animals they worked with.

Still, with the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, along with two other deaths preceding her, the public wondered if SeaWorld had something to hide. Activists called for the release of the once-wild animals for it had been said that the accidents involving Tilikum, the star of Orlando’s killer whale show, stems from stress and anger from being held in captivity.

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Whether or not we will be seeing a change in SeaWorld’s programs in the upcoming year is still unknown. We can only hope that with the internal changes that the company plans to take on that no further “accidents” like the passing of Brancheau will occur in the future and that the animals in held at SeaWorld facilities will fare better treatment.

Vivian Huang

Black coffee drinker. Adventurer. Fluent in sarcasm. Find me rambling about life and music at vivianlindsay.com.

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