THE BLOG
11/28/2014 08:48 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2015

Why a 13-Year-Old Jumped a Barricade to Protest SeaWorld

Last year, 13-year-old Rose McCoy made headlines around the world when she jumped the barrier at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to protest its SeaWorld float. You'd think the negative publicity alone would have given Macy's pause. Instead, personifying the definition of insanity, Macy's hosted a SeaWorld float again this year, perhaps thinking it would get a different result. It didn't. PETA supporters, including young Rose, again scaled the barriers at Thursday's parade and displayed posters proclaiming, "SeaWorld Hurts Orcas."

"It's a shame that a great New York tradition such as the Macy's Parade, which is supposed to be a family-friendly event, has a business like SeaWorld in it that tears families apart. It tears orca babies away from their mothers," Rose told Jane Velez-Mitchell, whose camera operator caught the protest on tape. "It's anything but family-friendly, so it really should not be in this parade or anywhere, for that matter."

Rose is not alone in her criticism of SeaWorld. After the release of the documentary Blackfish -- which reveals how orcas at SeaWorld are torn away from their families and confined to cramped, barren tanks -- attendance at SeaWorld parks took a nosedive. Musicians canceled gigs, and dozens of celebrities, including everyone from Cher to Jason Biggs, took to Twitter and other social media to express their disapproval of the abusement park. Corporate sponsors, including Hyundai, Virgin America, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Savings.com, STA Travel, Vacation Resorts International, Taco Bell and many others -- severed ties with SeaWorld. As a result, the park's profits are in a free fall: SeaWorld's third-quarter earnings were down 28 percent ($120.7 million) from the same time last year, and its stock value has plummeted to "junk" status, according to Standard & Poor's. SeaWorld was recently named one of the worst companies in the U.S. in a Consumerist poll.

Why is America moving away en masse from SeaWorld? The park takes highly intelligent, social orcas and confines them for life to tanks that, in comparison to their natural habitat, amount to virtual bathtubs. Orcas in the ocean swim as far as 100 miles every day, whereas at SeaWorld, they swim in endless circles. Not surprisingly, such intensive confinement takes its toll, leading the stressed, frustrated animals to lash out. Attacks such as the one by Tilikum on trainer Dawn Brancheau are virtually unheard of in the wild. And while captive orcas have access to veterinarians and never have to worry about where their next meal comes from, they nevertheless die far younger than their wild counterparts do. Wild orcas can live as long as 100 years. In contrast, orcas at SeaWorld often die by the time they reach their teens and rarely approach even the average life expectancy of wild orcas. At least 25 orcas have died in U.S. SeaWorld facilities since 1986 -- and not one died of old age.

Even a child can understand that there's something wrong with this picture. Yet Macy's -- and SeaWorld itself -- can't seem to get the message. So I'll spell it out for them: It's wrong to tear orca families apart. It's wrong to lock up highly intelligent animals in chlorinated prisons just so that people can point and laugh at their choreographed "antics." And it's long past time to stop calling animal abuse "entertainment." What SeaWorld does is cruelty, plain and simple, and it must stop. And if consumers continue to speak out and stay away from the park, it will stop.