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'Blackfish' Toll Rises

Southwest Airlines' SeaWorld ties damage reputation after Blackfish, animal rights protests

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Southwest Airlines SeaWorld penguin plane
Southwest Airlines introduced its latest "co-branded" plane painted with images of penguins kept captive by SeaWorld. Photo courtesy of SeaWorld
Southwest Airlines SeaWorld penguin plane
As part of the fanfare surrounding its penguin-painted jet, Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld flew two penguins around the country. Photo by SeaWorld
Southwest Airlines SeaWorld penguin plane
Southwest Airlines SeaWorld penguin plane

With SeaWorld under fire for its policies regarding animals, its Dallas-based airline partner Southwest Airlines is drawing heat for its association with the animal theme park. Animal advocates have begun to petition Southwest to sever its relationship with SeaWorld, and the airline's company headquarters will be the site of a silent protest in January.

The protest is being spearheaded by Alexandria Beck, founder of activist organization Mean Greens for Animals.

"We're going to do a silent protest at Southwest Airlines' headquarters," Beck says. "We want to remind them that they have the power and ethical responsibility to help prevent animal cruelty by ending their partnership with SeaWorld where dolphins, whales and other aquatic animals spend their entire lives in captivity."

 A petition launched in late October urging Southwest Airlines to end ties with SeaWorld has collected more than 25,000 signatures.

SeaWorld is in the throes of a backlash following the release of Blackfish, a documentary starring a quartet of former SeaWorld employees that raises questions about the marine park's treatment of its animals and the safety of its staff. In 2010, trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by an orca named Tilikum.

Most recently, the park has been besieged by negative press surrounding a concert scheduled for its Orlando park in March 2014. Nearly all of the acts scheduled to perform — including Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Heart, Trisha Yearwood, REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick, 38 Special and Martina McBride — dropped off of the bill over allegations made in the film.

The situation has become so dire that SeaWorld took out a full-page ad defending itself in a handful of newspapers across the country. SeaWorld's statement has been met with a number of rebuttals, including one from the Oceanic Preservation Society, which produced the Academy-Award winning documentary The Cove and another from marine wildlife conservation organization Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Southwest has had a longtime relationship with SeaWorld dating back to 1988, when SeaWorld opened its theme park in San Antonio. The two companies formed an alliance that included discount fares and Southwest's "co-branding" of three of its planes by painting images of the captive animals on their exterior.

As recently as June, Southwest Airlines was still cheerily tooting its horn over its SeaWorld alliance when it introduced a new Boeing 737-700 plane covered with penguins. SeaWorld hauled two of its penguins around the country for photo opps in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego.

A petition launched in late October urging Southwest Airlines to end ties with SeaWorld has collected more than 25,000 signatures.

A spokesman for Southwest Airlines declined to comment, saying only that "Southwest doesn't comment publicly on this."

According to the San Antonio Current, 84 animals have died at SeaWorld San Antonio.

The protest takes place at Dallas Love Field on January 8 at 11 am. "With all of the negative attention SeaWorld is getting, we just feel like it's time Southwest follows the lead of these musical acts and cuts their ties," Beck says.

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