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SeaWorld protest spreads to Busch Gardens

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Published:   |   Updated: January 17, 2014 at 06:13 AM

TAMPA — A social media-driven campaign that's successfully challenged big name entertainers to cancel performances at SeaWorld Entertainment theme parks — following criticism of SeaWorld's killer whale program — has spread to Busch Gardens Tampa.

The Beach Boys and Pat Benatar said they will not participate at Busch Gardens Tampa's Bands, Brew & BBQ 2014 that showcases food, drink and music in February and March.

The two acts joined nine others — Willie Nelson, Trace Adkins, Reo Speedwagon, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Barenaked Ladies, Cheap Trick, .38 Special and Heart — who in recent weeks canceled performances for a similar production scheduled for SeaWorld in Orlando.

“It has come to our attention that Busch Gardens is an affiliate of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment,” a notice on Benatar's website said Thursday. “In light of this, we have opted to cancel our Feb. 22, 2014, performance at Busch Gardens in Tampa.

BeachBoys.com, labeled as the group's official site, posted a Facebook link with dozens of responses favoring and opposed to the group's cancellation.

“Thank you for cancelling your show at Busch Gardens,” one post stated. “I salute you guys for standing up for marine mammal rights. I trained dolphins personally and am ashamed to admit the horrors I saw.”

Another said, “will miss seeing you at Busch Gardens... but I will be there...and at SeaWorld...sorry you were led astray... get the facts!”

Busch Gardens Tampa issued a brief statement Thursday.

“We regret to announce that the Beach Boys and Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo have cancelled their performances at Bands, Brew & BBQ this year, but we respect their decision. “We're disappointed that there is a media controversy enacted by animal activists and based on misinformation.”

Busch Gardens Tampa posted a similar message on its Facebook page late Wednesday. Its website said bands performing at Bands, Brew & BBQ would “be posted soon.”

The theme park also is hosting its longstanding Real Music Concert Series, which began Tuesday and runs to March 7. The schedule held firm as of Thursday afternoon with Herman's Hermits starring Peter Noone, Chubby Checker, The Glenn Miller Orchestra with The Four Freshmen, Bay City Rollers starring Les McKeown, Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Osmonds, Frankie Avalon and Lee Greenwood.

SeaWorld and other attractions, circuses and zoos have been criticized over the years regarding how they obtain, maintain captive, and care for animals.

The movement to pursue entertainment cancellations at SeaWorld parks was prompted by the premiere of the documentary Blackfish a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival, its release last summer, and a subsequent showing on CNN.

The documentary focused on a whale that killed a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando during a 2010 performance. Through interviews with former SeaWorld trainers, Blackfish painted a portrait of adverse issues claimed to be created by keeping whales in captivity.

SeaWorld Entertainment responded aggressively to the film and subsequent outcry, saying it was misleading and inaccurate and issued a letter that said it's invested $70 million in its killer whale habitat and millions more annually to support the facilities.

SeaWorld's three marine parks — Orlando, San Antonio and SanDiego — posted record attendance during the September-December quarter and announced Monday they expected to report the highest annual revenue in the company's 50-year history.

Shares Thursday closed at $33.59, up $2.40, or 8.4 percent, on the New York Stock Exchange.

But the aggressive social media campaign to encourage big name acts to cancel SeaWorld Entertainment performances has again brought national attention to the animal issues and the Blackfish documentary, which was not nominated this week for an Academy Award as supporters of the film had hoped.

The movement to capture the attention of entertainers who'd signed up for SeaWorld performances was begun by individuals across the country, who either turned to or were contacted by Change.org.

That website responds to or seeks people pursuing causes and provides advice and assistance in contacting hard-to-reach business or other officials to get attention for their petitions.

“Every day we look at a list of new petitions and when we noticed a pattern around Blackfish we were able to reach out,” said Pulin Modi, senior campaign manager for Change.org. “We've been involved with all of the petitions contacting the (SeaWorld) entertainers, but did not necessarily hear back from all the petitioners.

A Beach Boys fan from Kentucky who contacted Change.org gathered more than 1,000 signatures asking the group to stay away from Busch Gardens Tampa.

Another petition that's was directed to Netflix is shown on the Change.org site with 750 signatures saying Blackfish was a one-sided attack on SeaWorld by “misinformed extremists.”

tjackovics@tampatrib.com

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