Coverage: SeaWorld admits workers spied on animal activists
SeaWorld admitted to planting employees within an animal rights group to spy on the organization.
The company’s announcement comes as it desperately tries to regain its reputation following the 2013 release of “Blackfish,” a documentary that examined the treatment of captive orca whales.
Lindsey Bever of The Washington Post had the day’s news:
SeaWorld’s chief executive admitted Thursday that employees have posed as animal-rights activists and vowed that the company will end the controversial practice.
“We recognize the need to ensure that all of our security and other activities align with our core values and ethical standards,” SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby said Thursday in a statement. “As always, the security and well-being of our employees, customers and animals remain at the forefront of our business practices.”
The admission — and promise — came months after a prominent animal welfare organization accused the entertainment company of sending a worker to infiltrate its group and incite violence among protesters.
Manby made the announcement during an earnings call, saying that the company has hired an outside firm to assess its security policies.
“Following the completion of an investigation conducted by independent outside counsel,” SeaWorld said in the statement, “the board has directed that the company’s management team end a practice in which certain employees posed as animal rights activists in connection with efforts to maintain the safety and security of company employees, customers, and animals in the face of credible threats that the company had received.”
Mike Schneider of the Associated Press detailed PETA’s accusations against the theme park:
SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Joel Manby vowed Thursday to end the practice, but said that it had sent its employees to protect the safety of its employees and customers.
“We recognize the need to ensure that all of our security and other activities align with our core values and ethical standards,” Manby said.
However, the company refused to say who had authorized the infiltration, how long it had been going on, or how many workers were used to infiltrate animal rights groups or other opponents. SeaWorld spokeswoman Aimee Jeansonne Becka cited the confidential nature of its security practices.
The employee at the center of the accusations by PETA, Paul McComb, is still employed by SeaWorld but working in another department, the company said Thursday.
PETA said last summer that its own investigation revealed that McComb, a human resource worker, attempted to incite protesters and had posted incendiary comments on social media while masquerading as an animal-rights activist since 2012.
PETA officials said Thursday that SeaWorld’s refusal to fire McComb shows that it condones corporate spying. The group has been especially vocal in its criticism of SeaWorld since the 2013 documentary, “Blackfish,” suggested the treatment of captive orcas provokes violent behavior.
Artemis Moshtaghian of CNN explained how the company has struggled since the release of the documentary “Blackfish”:
SeaWorld’s reputation was damaged in part by “Blackfish,” a 2013 documentary co-produced by CNNFilms.
“Blackfish” begins by showing the practice of capturing orca babies in the 1970s and casts SeaWorld in a harsh light for the conditions in which the whales are raised.
The film blames SeaWorld for causing one whale, Tilikum, to become a killer. Tilikum, who has sired 21 calves, has killed three people, including SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.
The film generated criticism from lawmakers and advocacy groups like PETA.
Before the film was aired, SeaWorld issued a statement to CNN calling the documentary biased and said it failed to discuss the company’s “commitment to the safety of its team members and guests and to the care and welfare of its animals, as demonstrated by the company’s continual refinement and improvement to its killer whale facilities, equipment and procedures both before and after the death of Dawn Brancheau.”