THE BLOG

SeaWorld's IPO and the Third Question of Conscience

04/19/2013 11:45 am ET | Updated Jun 18, 2013

Would you buy a conflict diamond, purchase a slave, or bank dividends from Auschwitz?

Of course you wouldn't -- those are all questions of conscience that are easily answered.

But what about buying shares of stock in captive orcas (killer whales) including the wild born Morgan?

You now have that opportunity as SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., rolls out its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, and the choice you make is going to say a lot about who you are, and where we are headed as a civilized society.

"Are you one who looks on? Or one who lends a hand? Or one who looks away and walks off? Third question of conscience" -- Friedrich Nietzsche, "Maxims and Arrows" in Twilight of the Idols.

We are a nation repulsed by the inhumanity of dog fighting, yet moms and dads buy tickets for
their children to be entertained by a killer of humans -- a SeaWorld orca named Tilikum.
Can anyone explain that to me?

What is the disconnect? How can we continue to call this family entertainment? Maybe we need to look at this issue with a new perspective on a gut level that we can all understand.

Take a look at this Free Morgan PSA video from Daniel Azarian and Underdog Entertainment; if it doesn't move you, if you don't understand why investing in SeaWorld stock is wrong, not only do you not have a conscience, you likely don't have a heart either.

If you do have a conscience there should be no dilemma; for to perpetuate the practice of keeping orcas in captivity is unconscionable by any measure of any standard in today's society.

Still, this question of conscience must be addressed; we can't just look on, or look away, or walk off, we all must lend a hand to right this wrong and change our way.

Orcas belong in the ocean, it's time for society to say so, and for SeaWorld to listen. The discussion we need to engage in, however, is not about the rights of cetaceans, but rather the responsibility of humans.

As SeaWorld's stock goes public, the discussion about keeping cetaceans in captivity solely for entertainment and profit needs to go public too, and that is a responsibility that all of us need to step up to.

If you haven't given news of the SeaWorld IPO a second thought, maybe it's time you stopped and thought for a second -- thought about what it actually means to buy and sell shares of stock in a corporation that derives profit from the captivity of highly intelligent mammals like orcas.

As we continue to learn more about orcas, their intelligence, their social structure and their physical and environmental needs, we have to keep asking ourselves: Who are we to decide the fate of that which is not human, simply because we are?

We are at a turning point in society. We are ethically and morally obligated to take the high road on the issue of captivity, so we have to talk about Morgan because for her it's a matter of life or death.

Who is Morgan and why should you care?

Morgan is a wild born, juvenile female orca and she just might be the single most valuable orca held in captivity today.

"Blackfish tracks the story of Tilikum, but I'm aware of Morgan's story too. In order for people to understand what's happening to her in Loro Parque they need to know how she got there and why she's so valuable." -- Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Director of Blackfish.

The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972, places severe restrictions on the capture and import of wild orcas by marine theme parks. That makes Morgan priceless as a new blood line for captive orca breeding programs like those run by SeaWorld and Loro Parque.

"Morgan is more than just an abstract thought, she is more than just a money making commodity and she is certainly more than just a breeding machine, she is an individual orca. We have learned that her species is self-aware, sentient and that they have many of the same emotions that we have. To put her in a featureless concrete tank, where she is constantly harassed by the other orca, where she is made to perform tricks to get fed and to try and breed from her when she is so young is not only shameful it is morally and ethically abhorrent. The tide is turning against such a cruel and unjustified misuse of these animals. I can only hope that it will turn fast enough for Morgan." -- Dr. Ingrid Visser, Free Morgan Foundation

In June 2010, Morgan was found swimming alone in the Wadden Sea just off the Dutch coast. She was dehydrated and malnourished, but otherwise healthy with no serious injuries or disease.

She was taken from the ocean by the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk with permission from the Dutch Government. The justification for taking Morgan from her natural habitat was that she would be nurtured, rehabilitated and released back to the ocean as soon as possible.

However the Dolfinarium later claimed that Morgan was not a suitable candidate for return to the wild and that it would be in her best interest to be transported to a facility where she could be kept with other captive orcas for the rest of her life.

Morgan was transferred to Loro Parque, a marine theme park in Tenerife, Canary Islands (a possession of Spain). Although the park is privately owned, its orcas are part of SeaWorld's breeding program.

The transfer was authorized by a permit issued by the Dutch Government and controlled by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The taking of Morgan from the ocean and her transfer to Loro Parque, has been the subject of an ongoing legal challenge against the Dutch Government which I have written about in two earlier articles that you can read here and here.

There has not been a final judgment on the merits in Morgan's appeal and a favorable ruling at the next hearing before a Dutch tribunal could potentially bring Morgan back to the Netherlands and ultimately see her returned to the ocean. In fact, it is the opinion of three international law experts that the Dutch authorities erred legally in making their decision to permit the transfer of Morgan to Loro Parque.

Meanwhile, in the court of public opinion, there has been an impassioned plea by over 175,000 petitioners from all over the world to "Free Morgan" and Sam Simon, an American director, producer, writer, and philanthropist has engaged in a Celebrity Challenge to raise funds for Morgan's legal fight.

Those who are speaking out against Morgan's captivity do so not only for the benefit of Morgan, but for the betterment of humankind.

SeaWorld's interest and involvement with Morgan is no secret. It has been involved in the Morgan saga from the very beginning, providing Dolfinarium Harderwijk with expert assistance to aide in her rehabilitation.

When the time came to make the decision about whether or not to return Morgan to the ocean, one can't help but wonder whether SeaWorld's corporate interests and monetary considerations unduly influenced the Dolfinarium's decision to conveniently recommend the transfer of Morgan to Loro Parque.

In the 1997 PBS Frontline documentary, A Whale of a Business, there were allegations of "whale laundering" and the illicit trade of an orca between SeaWorld, Dolphinarium Harderwijk and a Japanese theme park. You can read the transcript here.

Morgan's journey from the Wadden Sea to Wall Street gives us further insight into the dark, shadowy commercial trade and exploitation of captive orcas, and understanding how Morgan ended up listed in the SeaWorld prospectus deserves our scrutiny.

Shame on SeaWorld for holding two-thirds of all the orcas in captivity and shame on you -- the bankers and brokers and investors -- the privileged few who look to profit from Morgan's captivity.

But don't cast a dark shadow of shame on me as a member of the human race by your indifference and by your greed, because humans are better than that, and it is time that we, as a society, said so in a single unified voice.

Should orcas be held in captivity? The conversation starts here and it starts now. Engage in this discussion, leave a comment, make a statement, express your thoughts and feelings and encourage others to do so as well.