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The harrowing 2013 documentary Blackfish investigated the mistreatment of performing orcas at SeaWorld – and now, it may be directly responsible for falling revenues at the animal amusement parks.
SeaWorld shares have crashed by 33%, with worse-than-expected performance and declining attendance. Projected revenues missed their targets by some $40 million. SeaWorld chief executive James Atchison told the Guardian that he links the park's declining fortunes to a storm of negative media attention, especially after the Californian state assembly attempted to introduce legislation that would phase out keeping orcas in captivity for the purpose of human entertainment.
Blackfish follows the story of Tilikum, a killer whale snatched from his pod in Iceland and held in captivity at SeaWorld, where he was attacked by other captive whales and eventually killed his trainer. It was critically praised for shedding light on the culture of malpractice at SeaWorld, with protesters demonstrating against the park and musicians like Willie Nelson cancelling any planned gigs.
SeaWorld employees sought to counter Blackfish's negative portrayal, with some trainers labelling it a witchhunt led by wronged ex-employees and overzealous animal rights campaigners. SeaWorld said in a statement earlier this year that the film is "inaccurate and misleading".
Still, it seems like the visitors may have taken the film's message to heart and are staying away from SeaWorld. Just goes to show the power of cinema.
Head here to read our interview with Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite.
Follow Thomas Gorton on Twitter here @angstromhoot