Killer Whales, SeaWorld and Media Credibility


As always the satirical web site The Onion gets it right.  Unfortunately, this could be reported as a fact by the mainstream press and science magazines.

Very little objective analysis by these news outlets as to the accuracy of the information presented within this documentary. Moreover, it is simply not the case that there is no alternative information available as this can easily be found on SeaWorld's supporting web sites and other legitimate sources. These go into a great deal of detail as to why Blackfish should not be viewed as a valid and objective documentary.

With yet another twist and turn in the saga of SeaWorld and its killer whales it was erroneously announced by both popular and the scientific press that the San Diego Park would be phasing out its killer whale shows in 2016

  In point of fact, this is not exactly what was said at the SeaWorld press conference. The fact that both the mainstream (and even the scientific press) seem completely incapable of reporting anything to do with the whole issue of SeaWorld and its killer whales objectively should be a cause of serious alarm.  What SeaWorld has actually decided to do is to change the format of its killer whale show at San Diego to incorporate a more educational remit rather than the current more theatrical presentations that can be seen at the other two American parks. 

One of the worst offenders in the reporting of the issues regarding SeaWorld and its animal care is the U.K.'s The Guardian and The Independent newspapers. Within the last year alone The Guardian has produced over a dozen articles on SeaWorld - all with a negative spin on the issue of SeaWorld and its animal care. The Guardian even invited the producer of the film Blackfish Gabriela Cowperthwaite to write an article about this subject. As far as a review of the contents of the Guardian reveals not once has the newspaper invited anyone from SeaWorld to undertake a similar exercise or to directly comment on their articles – aside from comments lifted from other news agencies and press releases.  

Within the last year alone The Guardian alone has produced over a dozen articles on SeaWorld - all with a negative spin on the issue of SeaWorld and its animal care.

To compound these problems the majority of this copy is produced by the Guardian's regional reporters or syndicated from releases by Associated Press. This is disappointing because the Guardian has an excellent science reporting team who would inevitably had taken a more considered and scientific approach to the animal welfare issues which is at the heart of this debate.

Moreover, it is continually disturbing that the Guardian and other print and web based news outlets somehow still seem to think that the film "Blackfish" should be taken on face value as being both accurate and factual. The actuality is there has been very little objective analysis by these news outlets as to the accuracy of the information presented within this documentary. Moreover, it is simply not the case that there is no alternative information available as this can easily be found on SeaWorld's supporting web sites and other legitimate sources. These go into a great deal of detail as to why Blackfish should not be viewed as a valid and objective documentary.

If reputable news and scientific-based magazine sites were reporting an issue such as the anti-vaccine movement there would be demanded a definitely more objective and rigorous examination of the facts. It is not without irony that the seminal work that was very much a trigger for the huge amounts of interest in SeaWorld and its care of its killer whales (and the production of the film "Blackfish") was written by investigative reporter David Kirby in his book Death at SeaWorld. If one looks at the body of Kirby's work prior to Death at SeaWorld he authored a book in 2006 entitled: Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy. This book promoted the notion that the Mumps Measles and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was responsible for autism in children; a view that David Kirby still seems to support .

It was a UK general practitioner Dr Andrew Wakefield who produced the now  discredited research on the MMR vaccine and autism.  As a result he was removed from practising medicine in the United Kingdom.  However, David Kirby seems to have escaped a similar fate from his peers as regards his credibility as a investigative journalist. Why this red flag has been to all intents and purposes completely ignored when reporting issues regarding SeaWorld and its care of its killer whales remains extremely puzzling.

It seems that unfortunately when it comes to reporting issues regarding the compromising of animal welfare in situations such as zoos and aquariums and other animal keeping enterprises many journalists appear to lose all sense of objective analysis and reporting that they would not do for many other subjects - such as the controversy over vaccination as cited above. Why this is happening is something of a mystery but it does not bode well when journalist do not report issues regarding animal welfare evenhandedly and by doing this they do a disservice to their readers.