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Compassion and understanding. Sadly, those two things seem to be in short supply when it comes to animals.

Blackfish has successfully divided a group of people who, once, all fought for the same thing — animal rights. The movie turned animal lovers against one another. How? Through brilliant editing masking extremist propaganda. SeaWorld lovers, you should know — Blackfish is losing steam and isn’t as popular as you might think.

Still, we now have “two sides” instead of one united front for animals. On one side, you have Blackfish fanatics who hold the film as “truth” and vow that the whales who live at SeaWorld would be better off being dumped in the ocean. On the other side, you have those people who understand the necessity of keeping these whales in their current environments, and even more so, that the whales who live at SeaWorld are healthy and thriving.

The two sides constantly duel it out online: blogging, tweeting, posting, commenting… all trying to prove their point. Proving a point is all fine and dandy, but name calling, verbal abuse, and downright virtual assault are not fine. They’re hurtful.

I have had my own share of virtual assaults since I released this video exposing the truth behind Blackfish and SeaWorld. Most people have nothing but positive things to say in support of my efforts, but plenty of others spew animosity and hurt to me. Fortunately, over the last eight months, I have learned some positive ways to handle these people — both online and in-person.


1. Listen and Understand

When you encounter someone who is “anti-SeaWorld,” listen and try to understand their point of view. Honestly, if I had never worked with Tilikum and the other killer whales at SeaWorld, I would’ve believed Blackfish to be true! Why wouldn’t I? You have to understand that the people who watch Blackfish have no reason not to believe it. Blackfish interviews real trainers, shows real footage, and promotes the film as a ‘documentary.’

I have rare insight into the truth. I understand that many of the trainers featured in the film, actually worked at SeaWorld years, even decades, ago. I’m also aware that half of those trainers seen in the film have since spoken out to reveal their comments lacked context or that they were flat-out misrepresented by the filmmakers. I also know that a significant portion of the ‘real footage’ is either shown out of context, horribly outdated, or both. Most importantly, I worked with the killer whales in the film and can attest to their care! Not many people can say that, so I have the unique ability to confidently dismiss the credibility of Blackfish.

Remember that the people you’re hearing from who “hate SeaWorld,” don’t have my understanding or your insight! When someone says, “I’m never going to SeaWorld again” or “SeaWorld abuses the whales,” simply listen and try to understand that what they’re saying is actually how they feel and what they believe to be true. By doing this, you start to see the situation through their eyes.


2. Ask Questions

Once you have listened, ask them questions. Ask them why! Calmly. Why do you never want to go to SeaWorld? Why do you believe Blackfish is true? Their responses will give you a lot of insight in to why they feel the way they do! Use that understanding to to ask even more questions. The point of this is to truly find out: 1) why they feel the way they feel, and 2) what evidence they have to support these feelings.

I am a “facts guy.” I don’t just rely on my own personal experience as a killer whale trainer. In fact, the day I started at Shamu stadium (before anyone had heard of “Blackfish”), I asked the curator of SeaWorld Orlando, Kelly Clark, to send me any and all information she had on killer whales. I wanted to learn as much as I could. Do you know what she included in the 100s of pages I was given? A “study” by Dr. Naomi Rose. I knew who Dr. Rose was, and I knew her views were extremist. However, I read her entire study! I did so because I didn’t want to be a “blind follower.” I wanted to hear all sides of the argument, so I could reach an informed conclusion. After reading her study (and many others), I found her writing to be largely inaccurate and very desperate.

If you have done your research, like you should, you will be able to explain to the person you are talking to why you feel the way you do.


3. Explain Yourself

Once you feel you have enough insight in to the basis for their feelings and the source of their information, then explain how you feel. Please note, this is not an opportunity to “preach,” to tell them they’re wrong, or to tell them how they should feel. You are only going to explain how you feel.

For example, you could say something like:

“I wondered some of those same things myself. Once I researched the topic, however, I found that killer whales at SeaWorld actually have similar lifespans to their wild counterparts. I also discovered that the majority of Blackfish didn’t discuss current practices at SeaWorld. It focused on the parks’ history which has no current bearing on the whales’ lives. Also, the trainers presently working at SeaWorld say that current practices are completely different than what’s shown in the movie. And… because those whales are so accustomed to living at SeaWorld, putting them in the ocean would most likely kill them. In the best case scenario, moving the whales to the ocean would be immensely stressful to the animals, and that’s not good. We all want what’s best for the whales!”

That sort of calm, thoughtful response demonstrates that you’ve done your research and you have solid reasoning behind your opinion. In my experience, most people who “hate SeaWorld” or want to “free the whales” have no logical reasoning.

Of course, if you haven’t done your research, then you have no reason to be engaged in this conversation! Who are you to think someone is misinformed if you haven’t done any research yourself? Don’t just take my word for it! Go out and find information – ON BOTH SIDES! And when you do your research, please consider the source.


4. Ignore

In marine mammal training, we use a training technique called the “Least Reinforcing Stimulus/Scenario.” While the technique is very complicated, in its simplest form, we ignore undesirable behavior. So, if someone is coming from a place of anger, rudeness, or any other undesirable behavior… ignore them!

There is NEVER a reason to give a attention to a bully. Do not engage with the “crazy people” online. Out of all of the hurtful tweets, messages and e-mails I get, I haven’t responded once! In fact, I don’t even read that type of thing. You can quickly scan the message and know the intention. The enraged messages just aren’t worth your time or your stress!

On that note: I see a lot of SeaWorld supporters defending me to these “crazy people” online. Thank you, but, stop! Your responses only draw attention to people who should be ignored.

If you are being consistently berated online, block these people and report them. You don’t need that kind of energy in your life. Instead for some positive energy, follow me on Twitter! 🙂 @KyleKittleson


5. Focus On What Matters

Ultimately, the only things that matter are your beliefs, your health, your family, your friends, and your happiness! Focus on those things and forget the rest. While the ‘other side’ of the divide is busy tweeting #EmptyTheTanks, you could be at the beach cleaning it up! While the Blackfish brigade wants to hold signs outside SeaWorld and yell at people — a local Orca population off the Northwest coast has dwindled from 500 to around 80 Orcas. Those people protest what’s actually wonderful treatment of whales, while ignoring killer whales truly in danger. Nobody seems to know about the shrinking wild Orca population — let alone care about it!

In fact, I could not find a single online source reporting what’s happening to those wild Orcas, and THAT is crazy! I heard about the Orca population’s struggles during an interview with Philippe Cousteau promoting his upcoming documentary.

As I have said time and time again, fight for a cause worth fighting. Imagine if all the “Blackfish brigade” AND all of the SeaWorld supporters started working TOGETHER to protect wild orcas. How amazing would that be!? It would be truly incredible, because we could actually make a difference in something that matters!

At the end of the day, we all want what’s best for the animals, so let’s fight for the animals who need our help!


A Final Thought

I am not paid by SeaWorld, and the only time I ever got a check from SeaWorld was when I was employed at SeaWorld Orlando as a trainer. In fact, I believe that the way SeaWorld has handled the Blackfish debacle has been simply awful. While their PR is improving, they are very late to the game — too late. I say this to make it clear that I don’t care about SeaWorld. I also don’t care about shareholders’ stock price. I care only about the animals. The animals at SeaWorld Parks do live incredible lives, and the work SeaWorld has done for wild animal populations is astounding. I only want all animals to continue receiving the highest quality of care.

Additionally, I do not think we should take healthy animals out of the wild. Some of the killer whales at SeaWorld were taken from the wild decades ago. Was that right? Absolutely not! However, putting those killer whales and the whales which were born at SeaWorld back into the ocean could be even worse. It would likely kill them! Remember ‘Free Willy?’ We “freed” him. He died.

It’s as simple as this: We have to stop thinking about what would make us feel good. We must only think about what is good for the animals.