My family visited SeaWorld San Antonio this weekend. The park has been open for 20 years – and none of us had ever been. It’s a clean, beautifully maintained 250 acre park that serves over 2.5 million people who visit each year. The staff was friendly and helpful.
On the surface there is nothing wrong with this park. Millions of happy families stream in and take full advantage of the Lost Lagoon water park, roller coasters, marine exhibits and incredible up close access to marine mammals. The shows are entertaining, too. Watching a whale breach the surface of the water and sail through the air, all set to high decibel Euro-style techno music, is exhilarating.
However, I understand that our ocean’s are in trouble, so I felt a huge disconnect in the park. It’s apparent that SeaWorld lacks a fully integrated conservationist philosophy.
SeaWorld’s greatest opportunity is to guide people to make a clear connection between themselves, the animals and the environment. The park is too focused on short-term human satisfaction and doesn’t function to educate how human behavior is the dominant force in determining the future of not only the oceans but our planet. Humans need re-think and re-learn our place in the world. Organizations like SeaWorld are perfectly suited to take on a challenge of this magnitude.
SeaWorld takes full advantage of the captive creatures it trains. These animals are the largest draw for the park. They help generate wealth for a few and a living wage for many. But how do the world’s oceans fare on the payroll? The animals are on loan from the ecosystem from which they were harvested. They are not really performers or actors – they are ambassadors representing the thousands of species in the oceans who can’t cooperate or ‘smile’ in a show. The animal’s performances should be seen as a invitation for us all to take heed and become involved.
A good strategy would be to incorporate the soul and goals of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund into the mainstream entertainment concepts and programming of the park. The Foundation’s goals can become the core driver of the business. With this act, SeaWorld can transform itself from a theme park that skims less than a million dollars from its immense annual profits to put towards its scientific grants – into a highly effective and entertainment/education advocate organization for the worlds oceans. Sure, some SeaWorld programs exist that touch on conservation, but they’re lost amid the larger theme of the park – which is mostly about humans being ‘entertained’ by animals. It’s time for SeaWorld to make the worlds oceans a proper business partner.
Families should leave SeaWorld inspired to become a part of the solution to key issues that threaten our oceans. Picture millions of Americans empowered by practical ideas on how to sustain wildlife and their environments. Teach people that all of us have a responsibility and each of us have real power to protect and conserve and about our responsibility because of our wealth, influence and our capacity to consume.
This is how SeaWorld becomes a part of the solution. This is how all the toil and investment really starts to make sense and the whole world wins. Leaders like SeaWorld San Antonio’s EVP Dan Decker have been with the company for many years. He believes in the culture. Decker states in a youtube film that the company has, ‘Taken very good care of he and his family…’ He has obviously been a good steward to the brand. The question is, can leaders like him think beyond the walls of SeaWorld and be as good a servant to the world’s oceans?
Why can’t SeaWorld become a place that churns out inspiration and action? They can…. it’s simply a matter of will.
Here are some companies that embrace corporate social responsibility as a key part of their business model and are rewarded for it:
Patagonia (constant environmental vigilance baked into everything they do)
Interface Flor (Mission Zero: eliminate their negative environmental impact by 2020)