No More Free Flights for Shamu: Southwest Ends SeaWorld Tie

Photograph by David Osborn/Alamy

Say farewell to the Shamu planes in Southwest’s fleet. The airline and SeaWorld Entertainment are ending a 26-year marketing relationship due to what Southwest calls “shifting priorities” for both companies.

Some 30,000 people signed a petition that urged the airline to stop marketing with the Orlando-based theme park operator, which has come under increasing criticism for capturing and training orca whales in recent years. The company also operates the Busch Gardens theme parks.

“Southwest is spreading its wings with new international service, and increased focus on local market efforts,” the company said in a statement that did not allude to the SeaWorld criticism. Back in January, Southwest wrote on its corporate blog that it was “in a listening and education mode with the goal of upholding our commitments as a good corporate citizen.”

SeaWorld has come under attack for its captive orca whales, an issue that gained prominence because of the 2013 documentary Blackfish. The theme park operator cut ticket prices after the July release of the film, which details the 2010 death of a trainer at a SeaWorld park in Orlando by a whale named Tilikum. SeaWorld executives say that Blackfish hasn’t harmed business and describe the price cut as a reaction to a prior increase, which had made its parks too expensive for some visitors.

Southwest said it would repaint three of its 737s that feature the black Shamu motif. The current contract expires at the end of the year.

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