Launched in January, The Dodo is a site where people who love animals can write about animals. As the site grew, many of its aspects began to take on animal rights issues, especially regarding SeaWorld. This didn’t stand well with the folks behind the Unofficial SeaWorld Podcast and the Stand with SeaWorld Facebook page. So this past month they created Awesome Ocean as a way to counter The Dodo.
Both sites have a lot of cute, feel good articles. Both have a lot of good information. But both also have a lot of false or misinformation in a number of their pieces, either done on purpose or out of negligence.
Some of that misinformation is very clear to people on both sides of the SeaWorld issue. I decided to take on The Dodo‘s piece about orca deaths at SeaWorld after a few activists had already pointed out the same errors on The Dodo‘s Facebook page and even a few more.
This problem stems from both sites being designed as tabloids. Anybody can submit their writing, and many entries (not all) on both sites have the appearance of a blog, an op-ed, or a fifth grade essay. Although both sites have editorial staff, to the best of my knowledge, neither has a scientific advisory board or scientific adviser of any kind that would be able to determine inconsistencies in submissions and increase the objectivity and credibility of each site.
Awesome Ocean was started with the financial assistance of SeaWorld. Awesome Ocean calls it a “small start-up investment.” SeaWorld calls it a “small start-up grant.” While the exact amount has not been disclosed, we do know that it is far less than the $2 million in venture capital funds used to start The Dodo.
However, Eric Davis, founder of Awesome Ocean and professional penguin fancier, told me via phone: “SeaWorld has just given some funding to help us get this off the ground because they believe in the site. They have no editorial control at all. That’s all us.” SeaWorld even endorsed the site by sending emails to its various mailing lists.
The vast majority of posts on both The Dodo and Awesome Ocean lack any kind of empirical evidence. The decision in these posts on what’s right and what’s wrong is based purely on the subjectivity of personal morals, ethics, and beliefs. Anyone can look at a single issue in a number of ways, such as orca pregnancy in captivity.
One side can say SeaWorld is breeding their orcas too young and getting them pregnant at too short an interval between pregnancies as compared to the wild. The other can say that pregnancy patterns in the wild are based upon the societal needs of an individual population or pod, whereas those parameters do not exist in captivity.
One side can say that getting orcas pregnant in captivity serves no conservation purpose and does not help wild populations. The other can say that many scientists and researchers use gestation figures determined at SeaWorld when writing papers on wild populations, as accurate gestation periods in the wild cannot be determined.
As an examination of how personal values affect our decissions, I asked a few anti-cap friends of mine the following question and posted it on a couple of internet groups primarily populated by anti-caps:
If the Walt Disney Company were to own SeaWorld, would you boycott its theme parks, cruise ships, films, and other products?
The overwhelming answer was “Yes.”
I then pointed out that the cruise line currently contract with a number of swim with dolphin operators and the company itself owns four dolphins at EPCOT it uses for swim programs.
The vast majority that had said “Yes” suddenly changed their answer. Some of the responses:
“I don’t know how I could tell my five year old she can’t see Finding Dory.”
“My seven year old loves Disney so much!”
“I’ve been a fan of Disney since I was a kid. I can’t give that up.”
“I have relatives that work at Disney. I couldn’t do that to them.”
“I guess you can enjoy the park, just skip the dolphin show.”
The irony of the last statement is that it can also be said of SeaWorld. In fact, using that philosophy, I was able on a recent visit to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, to enjoy the entire park while not encountering a single animal.
I have a feeling that had I gone on to mention Disney’s longstanding and currently expanding relationship with the owners of Ringling Brothers, the vultures that died in an unventilated shed, or the cheetah cubs that died from exposure to chemicals, I would have received the same answers. (For the record, I believe Disney’s current level of animal husbandry is among the top of the industry.)
So which site, The Dodo or Awesome Ocean, is right? The question that should be asked is: Which site is right for you?
DISCLAIMER: I had been asked to provide a piece for Awesome Ocean prior to its launch. As the launch date kept getting pushed farther and farther back, I opted to pull my piece and not provide content for the site. The piece originally submitted to Awesome Ocean, on orca mortality rates, now appears on this blog in the SeaWorld Myths category. Additionally, I was never informed prior to Awesome Ocean‘s launch that SeaWorld was financially backing the site. Had I been aware, I would not have agreed to submit my article in the first place as that may have been construed as a conflict of interest with work I do for certain clients.
It’s a good day. As much as I really wanted, I managed to write the entire post without mentioning the problems with sequential hermaphroditism in captive black sea bass. It’s fascinating. Look it up.