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SeaWorld Crisis

The Death of Dawn Brancheau

Christine McFaul, Maddie Lamb, Tate Monroe, Meagan Jackson, Joseph Vaughn, Dan Grzyboski

1. Detection



S Expanded from San Diego to Orlando S Opened in the early 1970s. S Anheuser Busch entered the theme park market in 1959 to

promote beer to young people and their families.


Busch spent millions of dollars investing in the company to add thrill rides and an all-new Shamu stadium to the Orlando theme park.
Buleen, 2013

Current Situation that Caused the Crisis

S The whales capture and treatment after

lead to mental health issues resulting in psychosis.


SeaWorld corporate culture is also to blame based on hidden documented attacks and appeals made toward allowing the trainers to get back in the water with the whales.
Cowperthwaite, 2013

S Colin Baird an ex-trainer from Sealand who worked with

Tilikum, explains one of Tilikums past attacks, One of the trainers had fallen into the enclosure and the whales got excited and pulled her under not allowing her to reach the side of the pool where she eventually drown. This is a main prodrome that Tilikum and other orcas should not be in contact with the trainers if they have been involved in passed attacks. the past three decades causing Baird to change his mind about orcas in captivity.
Kuo, 2013

S Tilikum has been responsible for three deaths occurring over

S Repetitive violent behaviors by whales in captivity and

reoccurring deaths are clear indicators that this will continue to happen to trainers.
S Since 1991, orcas in captivity have killed four individuals

and many others have come close to death. In the history of mankind there is no documented orca killing a human in the wild. Ventre, 2013
S Tilikum was previously involved in two other deaths that

some trainers were never told about.

Cowperthwaite, 2013

Uneducated Trainers

Target Audiences


S Enabling Publics S SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment president- Jim Atchison


Posted announcement online following the death of Dawn Brancheau

S SeaWorld Orlando President-

Dan Brown

The single voice during the first post-attack press conference

LA Times, 2010

S Functional Publics S Employees S Consumers S Management

S Normative Publics
S Other theme park attractions in

the Orlando, Fla. area

S Theme parks with similar values S

Marine mammal attractions

S Diffused Publics S Media S Communities and businesses in the Orlando, Fla. area S Hotel and motels in the Orlando, Fla. area

Corporate Culture
S SeaWorld corporate culture is also to blame based on hidden

documented attacks and appeals made toward allowing the trainers to get back in the water with the whales.
Cowperthwaite, 2013

S A SeaWorld spokesperson down played the event an indicator

of SeaWorlds corporate culture hiding previous information from the public.

S Dan Brown, spokesperson for SeaWorld, was using much

softer language, calling it an incident or drowning instead of a death or killing.


2. Preparation


Did the company try to overcome the crisis?

S SeaWorld tried to place blame on the trainer, Dawn

Brancheau by stating that her ponytail was the reason for Tilikums attack. S SeaWorld also tried to cover up crises. There are more than 80 documented accidents that have been covered up to save SeaWorlds reputation. S SeaWorld overlooked the fact that Tilikum was involved with two previous murders.
The Telegraph, 2010


Did the company use effective crisis management?

S SeaWorld should have been more transparent with the

crisis. S Placing the blame on Brancheau makes SeaWorld look insensitive and guilty. S SeaWorld chose to keep Tilikum for his valuable reproductive abilities. (More than 50 percent of SeaWorlds orca whales that have Tilikums genes.)
Cowperthwaite, 2013

3. Containment

Crisis Communication Theory

S Apologia Theory
S Redefine
S Disassociate S Ignoring prodromes
Fearn-Banks, 2013

Communication Model

Communication Model

S Press Agentry/Publicity Model

S News coverage
S Blackfish S Court hearings

Fearn-Banks, 2013,

Key Messages

S Dealing with the MEDIA:

S 1st Response was to get people away from the scene.
S 2nd Alert Orange County Sheriff's Department about the


S 3rd SeaWorld came out with a press conference. S 4th They had outside experts talk about the accident.

Key Messages
S Types of media strategy that was used: S Withholding information

Example: OCSD spokesperson, stalled press conferences.

S The company did speak as one voice,

including both the president of SeaWorld Orlando and the president of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. S Expert testimony

Jack Hanna, animal expert Cyhy8

Key Messages

S How SeaWorld informed their publics of the situation:

S Used good medians for getting information out.

But the information was not very informative.

S Used a lot of different media vehicles to reach their publics.


Some examples include radio, TV newscasts, internal memos, and press conferences.

Key Messages

S The three Cs of crisis planning: S Control, credibility and compassion S They used both control and credibility, but not compassion. S Crisis communication strategies: S SeaWorld used denial and excuse in the reaction to this crisis.

Although SeaWorld apologized, Brancheau was blamed for her own death.

Global News

4. Recovery and Learning

Following the crisis

S Suspended the @Shamu Twitter handle

Platform Magazine

S SeaWorld remains strong S Tilikum still resides at the theme park S Trainers are not allowed in the water with whales
Orlando Sentinel

Was public confidence restored following the crisis?

S There are many who are strongly against SeaWorld as a result

of this event and events like it. There are also many people who were fans of SeaWorld and who still are even after this crisis.
S Steve Farnsworth, the chief digital strategist for Jolt Social

Media in California said, What happened with this crisis was that a lot of people who have opinions about keeping animals in captivity have come out, and SeaWorlds relationship with fans comes into play at this point. The fans came to SeaWorlds defense; the majority of their comments are positive.
Platform Magazine

One Ocean

S On May 30, 2012 Judge Ken Welsch ruled that during shows,

trainers must remain out of the water and separated from the orcas.
S One Ocean is the new show with the Killer whales. S In this new show the trainers do not enter the water with the

S One Ocean will feature highlights such as multiple orcas

performing in unison and maneuvering amid giant fountains.

Orlando Sentinel Black Fish

Company profits following the crisis

S Despite the crisis, in 2010, the company still saw an

increase in sales over the next few years.

S In 2011 SeaWorld Parks and Entertainments earnings

were $19.1 million.

S In 2012 their earnings increased by more than 300

percent to $77.4 million.

Orlando Sentinel


S Overall, there was not much that SeaWorld changed after

the crisis.
S Incidents like this happened before and SeaWorld

ignored them.
S SeaWorld passed up multiple opportunities to do what

was right for the whales and the trainers including after this incident.

5. Strengths and Weaknesses

Dan Browns Statement

1. SeaWorlds reaction to crisis situation
LA Times, 2010

2. Market presence 3. Keeping Tilikums previous violent behavior

hidden from employees and consumers

Cowperthwaite, 2013

4. Financial stability

1. Misconstrued views/ opinions of what happened during the

first post-attack press conference


Was it just a drowning accident? SeaWorld reported again two hours after the initial incident

Waggener Edstrom, 2010

2. Lawsuit filed by Occupational Safety and Health

Administration gave SeaWorld a bad image in the public realm.

3. The way the media spoke about SeaWorld carried a negative

Cynthia McFadden, Nightline ABC News

4. Tilikum has demonstrated violent behavior in the past, which had

resulted in two deaths before Brancheau.

Cowperthwaite, 2013

5. Inability to fully understand the orcas brain after extensive

Cowperthwaite, 2013

6. Lack of compassion shown during post-attack interviews

LA Times, 2010

The End

As a side note

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