June 23 2014 04:38 PM

Challenging SeaWorld’s ‘commitment’ to wildlife protection


To salvage SeaWorld's public image, which was recently mauled by the documentary Blackfish, the theme park's spokespeople have been vigorously reminding us that, foremost, they are zoologists. They say their primary concern is for the environment and animals—both in the wild and in captivity—and I say that's a load of bull-shark shit!

The reason I can call bull-shark shit on this oft-repeated notion that SeaWorld is more worried about animals than it is about the bottom line can be summed up in one word: fireworks.

There's an ongoing legal battle to ban Fourth of July-type fireworks from being exploded over or near the water because fireworks are full of contaminants such as charcoal, gunpowder and heavy metals like mercury, copper and the sometimes-radioactive strontium. They're also loaded with perchlorate, which is the same garbage used in road flares and rocket fuel. And SeaWorld San Diego is blowing that shit up nearly every night, all summer long, right over the already sickly Mission Bay and its wildlife.

Now, I know a lot of you redneck, seal-clubbing types might say, "Buzz off, seaweed hugger. They're just animals." And you know what, that's to be expected from your ilk. But this is SeaWorld we're talking about—the self-professed champion of the waterways. Its websites contain whale-loads of self-aggrandizing statements citing its environmentalist cred. It brags that it has "a commitment to animal welfare," which seems like a bunch of seahorse shit to me, considering SeaWorld's insistence on reenacting the Battle of Fort McHenry over Mission Bay all summer long. It boasts that its "commitment to animals extends around the world" and "[r]esponding to wildlife in crisis is a commitment we take to heart" and "[it] illustrates SeaWorld's commitment to animal welfare" and—well, "commitment" my largemouth bass. If SeaWorld were truly that committed, it wouldn't even consider dumping that dreck over the bay any more than Mothers Against Drunk Driving would consider hiring Snoop Dogg to sing "Gin and Juice" at its annual picnic.

You can darn well bet the San Diego Zoo would never consider exploding fireworks over its park. Because the zoo has a policy: "Please do not annoy, torment, pester, plague, molest, worry, badger, harry, heckle, ruffle... or bother the animals." SeaWorld has a similar directive: "Please do not annoy, badger, pester, plague or bother the bottom line."

It should be noted that the research on this is young and inconclusive. The people who manufacture or otherwise benefit from fireworks interpret that as meaning "safe." However, the researchers without bias (also known as scientists) believe there is cause for concern. Citing just one of many examples, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection conducted an 11-year study of an annual fireworks display that, while not conclusive, "appeared to have resulted in perchlorate contamination in soil and groundwater..." And that's just from an annual fireworks show. The SeaWorld hullaballoo goes off every night! And while long-term effects are not yet known, there's consensus from both sides that there is a significant short-term increase in perchlorates and other contaminants after a fireworks show.

"We've monitored a number of metals and elements and constituents to see if there [were] any elevations in the bay," SeaWorld spokesperson David Koontz told SDNews.com in 2008. "It was shown that there was no negative impact on the quality of the bay as a result of our fireworks."

I found that quote to be curious. He begins by saying SeaWorld monitors the bay for "elevations" in toxicity and concludes by saying there is "no negative impact," which is like saying, "I've monitored the Switchfoot concert to determine how awful the drummer is, and it was shown that the audience enjoyed the show." The conclusion does not answer the premise. In fact, it looks like a dodge. 

So, I asked Koontz if there were, indeed, short-term spikes in contaminants after their fireworks display, and he responded, "Concentrations of residual chemicals from SeaWorld's fireworks... continue to be low and below regulatory threshold values..." which, again, avoids the question. Probably because there are significant short-term elevations (a point conceded by, um, everyone). I want to know what makes him so sure that even short-term elevations don't have an impact.

Just because there aren't dead fish washing up on the shore doesn't mean some seriously bad mojo isn't happening. Also, no mention of studying trends in animal mortality, birthrate, disease, food supplies and habitat destruction? We know that marine animals rely on sound for orientation, socializing and predator detection. Hard to believe there arenít some creatures that aren't adversely affected by the orgy of light and thunder pounding over their heads every summer night.

Not to jump to conclusions before all the science is in, but I'm having a difficult time believing that rocket fuel isn't harmful to pretty much everything that isn't a rocket. And, yes, that's my unscientific opinion. But c'mon! If SeaWorld is truly committed to the habitat, it wouldn't even mess with fireworks until it was given the all-clear by the science community.

Because, you see, SeaWorld has it hopelessly backwards. You don't dump Pandora's box of scary stuff over the water because there's no proof that it's harmful. You hold off from doing so until you get conclusive proof that it's safe! That's what "commitment" looks like. 

Write to ed@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. Edwin Decker blogs at www.edwindecker.com. Follow him on Twitter @edwindecker or find him on Facebook.

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