9 min read

WWF Has Changed Its SeaWorld Statement - And It Doesn't Look Good

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Two years ago, the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) partnership with SeaWorld was exposed. Long-time supporters inundated the charity, concerned about its affiliation with a business franchise that exploits whales and dolphins for entertainment. However, they were shocked to learn the truth: WWF doesn't seem to care about animal welfare.

The only response WWF made is what appears to be an attempt to save face. All traces of SeaWorld were removed from its website and an official statement was released by its UK office. All other branches remained silent on the matter, including WWF in the US - the branch that is actually in bed with SeaWorld.

WWF UK's statement used to read as follows:

"At WWF our focus is on protecting endangered species in the wild and their habitats. The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, which supports a number of conservation organisations, has donated funds to our work annually through WWF in the USA. Whilst we acknowledge there is a role for aquaria to support conservation and education, we would never condone the mistreatment of captive animals but we are not able to comment on the issues raised in Blackfish as these do fall outside our area of expertise."

Overly long and badly punctuated final sentence aside, it seems WWF posted this statement in haste... because it has now been completely changed. Was this in response to a thorough critique made of the original?

In the initial statement, WWF appeared to justify the exploitation and suffering of a few in order to help conserve the many. It deployed distraction tactics in the language it used, turning the attention to other conservation organisations receiving money from SeaWorld, as if to say "It's not just us, they're doing it too!". WWF side-stepped the actual issue, refusing to acknowledge the partnership it had (and still has) with SeaWorld, even when, only hours previously, the SeaWorld logo had been listed on its 'Partners' webpage.

WWF referred to the role of aquaria in supporting conservation and education, despite there being very little evidence of SeaWorld contributing anything in these areas. (In fact, SeaWorld even ignores and misuses science to suit its own agenda). But this wasn't the worst of WWF's statement. Perhaps most appallingly, WWF put a 'but' after saying it would never condone the mistreatment of captive animals. The bottom line of the statement was that WWF wasn't going to make a statement about the fact it takes money made from sentient mammals performing tricks in captivity. What's more, this contradicted a comment WWF made on its Facebook site less than a week earlier.

So what does the new statement say?

"WWF does not have a corporate partnership with Seaworld. But we do receive donations in the USA from the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, which is a private foundation and registered non-profit, separate from SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. The annual donations, which first started in 1987, have primarily supported species conservation work in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (and in the United States).

We are not able to comment on the issues raised in Blackfish as these do fall outside our area of expertise but we would never condone the mistreatment of captive animals."

Well, the date of the statement is still the same and WWF did take on board comments to rework that final sentence. However, let's take a look at the rest of it. "WWF does not have a corporate partnership with SeaWorld" - SeaWorld still maintains it does. SeaWorld specifically states on its website that it partners with WWF. And WWF does sort of acknowledge this because it follows its assertion with another of its strategically placed 'buts'.

WWF says that donations are still given to its US branch by SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. It then tries to separate the Fund from SeaWorld. They might as well be saying, "See, we aren't doing anything wrong because SeaWorld's Fund isn't really SeaWorld and therefore, we haven't done anything wrong!"

Not quite. Apart from the fact 'SeaWorld' is in the Fund's name, on the "Who We Are" page of the Fund's website, it says that it is comprised of "The over 2,000 people that care for the animals at SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Busch Gardens parks...". In other words, SeaWorld employees. Furthermore, on the FAQ page, it confirms that some of its funds are indeed provided by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, which is in the business of making money from its assets, (the living, breathing ones). The Fund proudly lists WWF on the same page as one of its monetary recipients.

WWF makes a point of noting the year it started receiving the annual donations from the Fund - 1987. This is impressive as the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund wasn't launched until 2003. WWF then ends this statement with more deflection, this time to lots of different countries, away from the suffering animals, (presumably that's why WWF have bracketed the "United States" bit?).

Only time will tell whether WWF will change its statement again. One thing is certain: WWF responds to public pressure. The global conservation charity has reacted several times already to the negative publicity it has received because of its partnership with SeaWorld. You too can express your concerns over WWF's continuing partnership by contacting its UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other offices.