Nothing Like “Free Willy”

Nothing like “Free Willy”

When you saw the latest news about SeaWorld Orlando did you:

  1. Decide you absolutely just had to go there for the first time or a return visit.

  2. Vow never to return or buy a ticket for the first time or any other time.

  3. Think no big deal…nothing to worry about…who cares anyway?

Before answering that, the big news in case you missed it:


SeaWorld will stop showing performing whales, and keeping orcas as “performing pets” as well.

Is this a big enough deal for you to pay attention?

Maybe so.

Especially if you take into account some observers of theme parks.

They compared this action to Walt Disney World Resort ending its long association with Mickey Mouse.

SeaWorld without its whales?

Serious stuff for theme park-goers, no?

Is this something out of “Free Willie?”

The G-rated family movie where the killer whale swims away?

Free to be?

What all this might do is this:

Make you wonder about the future of SeaWorld…not to mention the direction of theme parks as well?

SeaWorld hopes to again find the type of robust growth that has been the norm for theme park-goers buying Disney World Tickets and Universal Studios Orlando tickets.

SeaWorld, after all, is one of the area’s “big three” when it comes to theme park ticket-buying.

Actually, the SeaWorld news is not like a lot of its ilk: bad. And while this is not a movie like “Free Willy,” it has other often positive aspects.

They even involve the rising (and at times controversial) costs of what you pay to visit…and might make you re-think it.

To explain, we need to look at this news not just at what happened…but from 15 different ways.

Here they are:

  1. Let’s start with “Free Willy.”

This was not like the movie.

Orcas should not be set free

The orcas currently in captivity will not be released into the wild.

SeaWorld said its orcas will remain at the theme park “for many years to come.”

But that was not what some environmental groups wanted.

“Some critics want us to go ever further. They want us to set free the orcas currently in our care,” said Joel Manby, SeaWorld’s CEO.

But he pointed out that most of the Orcas born at SeaWorld and even in the wild have spent most of their lives here.

“If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die,” he said.

In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild.

Even the attempt to return the whale from “Free Willy,” Keiko, who was born in the wild, was a failure.

Those are simply facts.

It’s also safe to say no group like SeaWorld has ever done more to promote the public’s understanding and appreciation of sea animals.

Besides which, sea animals at the parks have been shown to have far longer lives than ever in the wild.

Said Manby:

“For as long as they live, the orcas at SeaWorld will stay in our parks. They’ll continue to receive the highest-quality care, based on the latest advances in marine veterinary medicine, science and zoological best practices.”

So if we wrote a headline, it would be common sense wins.


     No. 2. A similar headline nod to common sense for those who claim some sort of victory for anti-animal activists (PETA the most prominent).

Caving in to animal-rights fanatics, right?


It was far again a win for common sense.

Remember our earlier quiz offering three choices?

Most likely, you named the third option of “who cares?”

Whale shows are boring

Animal acts such as performing killer whales may still have entertainment value…if you have the mind of a five-year-old child.

But how many adults (outside of those parents feeling somewhat guilty about watching their children’s delight in performing animals) really care about SeaWorld shows?

Common sense tells you another factor:

They’re boring. At least a lot more boring than they used to be. If you haven’t seen one in a few years, you may have memories of trainers riding on whales and being blasted into the air.

No more of that.

Those days are long gone. After the killer whale Tilikum drowned trainer Dawn Brancheau, the in-water interaction ended.

Nowadays, if you have seen it lately…it’s 25 minutes of whales splashing in the tank while trainers stand on dry land, dancing in wetsuits and throwing out dead fish.

The interaction between whales and humans is, to say the least, minimal. Who’s going to miss it?

     No. 3: Not you…especially if you selected option three earlier in our quiz.

So why did SeaWorld end the practice?


Their attendance was going down.

So were their profits.

No-shows common

And the stock market?

Like it or not, owners of theme parks (and especially their stockholders) pay attention to that as well.

Hurting. A downward trend.

From 2013 to 2015, all key revenue sources were down.

That includes attendance.

It had dropped by one million guests. Just a number to you, though a big number.

But to SeaWorld, a very bad thing.

Especially when Disney Orlando tickets and Universal Studios Orlando tickets were hot sellers. Record attendance.

Actually, news reports made it sound as if SeaWorld was out there hunting whales…just as in the days of the classic whale story “Moby Dick” when whale oil was so valuable they were almost hunted to extinction.

What happened then was not the kind of common sense shown by SeaWorld, but new technologies made whale oil not necessary.

Whale hunting slowed.

SeaWorld was getting out of the business, anyway

For SeaWorld, the company has not collected an orca from the wild in almost 40 years. The orcas at the attraction were either born here or spent their entire lives in human care.

So if you still wonder why they did it, consider:

Captive whales were simply no longer good for business.

     No.4: So perhaps SeaWorld should have gone on as before. Pay no attention to all the criticism.

Consider this: the world is a far different place than the old days when the circus came to town with wild lions and tigers in a cage being ordered around and pushed around by a whip-cracking animal “tamer.”

People today are concerned about the humane treatment of animals.

This is not to say they never were but if you think about it for even a few seconds, this new concern is more focused and intense. Very positive. People care.

Isn’t that amazing, just by itself?

Human beings have long had a mixed feeling about whales or orcas. For a long time, attendance at SeaWorld continued to rise, just as it did at the other local theme parks.

Killer whales are amazing to watch

But on the other hand, growing numbers of people objected to their captivity. They didn’t like the idea.

Even lawmakers in places like Sacramento, Calif., and Washington, DC began proposed legislation to phase out their captivity.

Moves like “Free Willy” helped their cause, of course.

Humanizing them.

So it as not just special interest groups that led to SeaWorld’s actions. But the general public.

So whatever the US Congress or the legislature in your own state does…or does not do…SeaWorld was responding to the wishes of the general public.

What more could you ask of them?

     No. 5: That brings us to another view: park economics as they impact you.

Yes, you.

There has been some concern…can it outrage at times…over rising theme park prices…led of course by Disney World ticket buyers…and echoed by those who instead choose Universal Studios Discount tickets.

But what they not always considered is that theme parks can’t remain as they always have.

They must change. And that means new attractions.

New experiences.

And new roller coasters.

To do that, more money is needed for investments in the future.

There is no clearer indication of this than in SeaWorld.

Where you may have noticed roller coasters were added in recent years.

This is meeting what the public wants.

The truth is:

Roller coasters over fish shows

SeaWorld has known this for years. It began investing in impressive rides years ago and has since stepped on the accelerator. The park gave Central Florida its first coaster where passengers ride lying face-down (Manta).

Now it’s building a coaster billed as the fastest, tallest and longest (Mako).

If there’s a motto for SeaWorld’s future plans, it should be: Bigger rides, smaller animal shows.

Does the public (that means you) want to pay more for new experiences and faster rides?

Probably not.

We are not apologizing for higher prices when you are paying for higher priced Disney tickets or Universal Studios Orlando tickets. But simply pointing out this added income goes for new attractions… and it’s probably worth mentioning we have SeaWorld tickets to.

Sure, it costs you more. But it has a purpose…

To help make your experience a better one.

     No.6: What has this move done for SeaWorld? Great media coverage.

In fact, SeaWorld swam in it.

Both environmentalists and Wall Street analysts of SeaWorld were patting each other’s backs. Nonstop.

At CBS news, hosts were smitten enough to label the new partnership a “bro-mance.”

There were even suggestions that perhaps the two previously warring factions could teach the United States Congress to get along more agreeably.

What this all translates for you, the guest, is a healthy theme park.

And competitive.

We all know what competition does:

It improves all the parks as they strain to get your attention.


       No. 6: So if you really miss SeaWorld’s whales, you can really see wildlife in a lot of other places.

All over Orlando.

And not just at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, either.

Though it’s not a bad trip to board an open-air safari vehicle for an 18-minute guided ride (with theming, of course) through Disney’s 110-acre Harambe Wildlife Reserve.

You’ll see where 34 species of African wildlife roam.

See lions, (not the sea-going kind, of course), and gazelles, warthogs, white and black rhinos, elephants, warthogs, giraffes, and zebras, etc.

But how about free wildlife?

Orlando’s own native wildlife is everywhere outside the park.

Orlando is king of free wildlife

Giant sand hill cranes, white egrets and fearless ducks live in any park you might visit.

Or even along the major highways. Or on the area’s many golf courses.

All outside of the theme parks.

And SeaWorld still has dolphins and penguin shows.

These are all expected to continue.

And nearby, though not at the heart of theme parks, there’s Gatorland.

The park calls itself the “Alligator Capital of the World.”

Tons of them. Including the rare white gator. Also colorful birds. Slithery reptiles.

And if it’s shows you want…humans here hand-feed the animals at the Gator Jumparoo. Watch them leap out of the water to chomp chickens.

There’s also alligator wrestling.

So far, no one has complained it was inhumane.

Not even the humans. ###