Those who exploit animals for profit – and their publicists – routinely describe animal rights activists as extremists, radicals and terrorists in an effort to discredit, marginalize and disempower them. Through campaign contributions, they also recruit elected officials, who have the public’s ear, to use the same incendiary language. Sadly, it’s an approach that works, with members of the public often embracing those terms when referring to animal rights activists.
But what happens when an exploitive company uses this tactic to discredit and silence an authority figure, who is not perceived by the public to be a “radical extremist?”
In November, The American Cetacean Society invited Dr. Thomas White – a reputed university professor; the author of In Defense of Dolphins, and a critic of cetacean captivity – to participate in a panel discussion on orca captivity at its annual conference. Before the session, SeaWorld, which was also represented on the panel, successfully requested that it not be recorded – a move that is highly unusual and unethical at a scientific conference where presentations are made available to the public.
In a video he made about the incident, Dr. White said that SeaWorld’s request was based on the company’s desire to silence a presenter who they could not portray as a “radical” once his remarks were made available publicly: “They characterize us as radicals, not serious researchers. And, it’s easier to maintain that picture of their critics if there’s no evidence to the contrary.”
In addition to making a public statement about SeaWorld’s effort to marginalize and silence him, Dr. White posted his presentation from the conference on YouTube video, which will likely reach more people than it would have if SeaWorld didn’t muzzle him in the first place.
This is not SeaWorld’s first attempt to tamper with science. In 2014, an Orca Research Trust investigation of SeaWorld’s 52 scientific papers demonstrated, among other things, that the company was using vitamin supplement and artificial insemination studies to justify captivity even though these studies are “unlikely to be useful to wild populations.”
SeaWorld’s attempts to silence scientists, misrepresent research and spin cruelty into conservation will only motivate “radicals” and “non-radicals” to continue waging a war against the company until it empties the tanks. It will also motivate activists to ensure that public knows that the real extremists and radicals are those who terrorize animals for profit.