By Sheryl Jean
Protesters rallied today near Southwest Airlines’ headquarters in Dallas, seeking an end to the carrier’s partnership with SeaWorld because of the marine-park giant’s treatment of orca whales and other sea mammals.
Southwest confirmed that animal activists dropped off a Change.org petition signed by more than 27,000 people at its main gate at its Dallas Love Field headquarters. Starting around 11 a.m., the activists also rallied at the corner of West Mockingbird Lane and Cedar Springs Road. The rally is supposed to last until 1 p.m.
“Southwest needs to understand that they are promoting animal cruelty seen in Blackfish if they continue to partner with SeaWorld as they have done for the last 25 years,” activist Robin Merritt says in her petition to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly on Change.org. “They do promotional deals, send out joint-press releases patting each other on the back, and are working hand in hand to profit from the misery of animals exploited for SeaWorld.”
The 2013 documentary film Blackfish was critical of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.’s treatment of orcas. It told the story of Tilikum, a 12,000-pound bull orca invovled in the deaths of three people.
SeaWorld executives did not talk with the filmmaker and it has disputed the film’s arguments. The film opened last July.
Merritt launched her petition in October.
Southwest said it’s not considering any changes to its relationship with SeaWorld at this time.
“Southwest has a longstanding relationship with SeaWorld that is based on travel and bringing families together,” the airline said in a statement. “We are currently in a multi-year contract with SeaWorld, and we are not contemplating changes to that at this time. We are engaged with Sea World related to the recent concerns being raised. We are in a listening and education mode with the goal of upholding our commitments as a good corporate citizen. “
Southwest today also posted a message on its Nuts about Southwest blog and then tweeted it at @SouthwestAir.
Southwest has had a relationship with SeaWorld for about 25 years. The airline has painted several of its planes with images of park’s marine mammals, such as an orca named Shamu, and last year it unveiled Penguin One, an aircraft painted with penguins as part of a new SeaWorld exhibit on Antarctica in Orlando, Fla.
SeaWorld has seen some backlash from Blackfish. Earlier this month, the Orlando Business Journal reported that SeaWorld stuffed an online ballot box asking whether Blackfish had changed people’s opinions of the marine park. Last month, several musicians, including .38 Special, Barenaked Ladies and Willie Nelson, canceled performances at SeaWorld’s Bands, Brew & BBQ event in the wake of Blackfish.
Southwest Airlines has a choice,” Merritt said in her petition. “Will it support the animal cruelty at SeaWorld or make a compassionate choice to end this partnership of cruelty?”