Oceanic Preservation Society issues rebuttal to SeaWorld's open letter to animal activists

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- An advocacy group that produced the award-winning movie "The Cove" has taken issue with SeaWorld's defense of its treatment of killer whales.

The Oceanic Preservation Society issued a rebuttal on Monday to full-page ads that SeaWorld took out in seven newspapers last week, defending its record with killer whales.

SeaWorld took out the ads after eight recording artists withdrew from a concert series at its Orlando park in February.

Among the artists who have canceled are Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, 38 Special, Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson and Heart. Many of the performers withdrew from the SeaWorld concert series after fans started online petitions at Change.org.

Many of the artists cited the critical documentary "Blackfish" as inspiring their decision to drop out. The documentary explores what may have caused a 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum to kill veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Tilikum pulled her into a pool. The orca also was involved in two other deaths. The documentary argues that killer whales, when in captivity, become more aggressive to humans and each other.

The SeaWorld newspaper ads said that the marine park company hasn't taken a wild killer whale into captivity for 35 years due to its successful breeding program. It also said that SeaWorld doesn't separate killer whale mothers and calves and that the company has invested $70 million over the past three years in its parks' killer whale habitats.

The Oceanic Preservation Society said in its rebuttal that no amount of money can recreate an orca's natural environment, and the group disputed SeaWorld's claim that it has contributed to research on killer whales.

"SeaWorld is afraid that the truth about captivity is spreading, especially since the release of the film `Blackfish,'" the Oceanic Preservation Society said.

SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs said the Oceanic Preservation Society is "as careless with facts as the other animal rights organizations currently targeting SeaWorld."

Jacobs said the society was wrong in its assessment of SeaWorld's research contributions. He cited recent research on animal metabolism as an example.

The research results "would be impossible to gain without access to animals living in managed care," Jacobs said. "There are countless examples of contributions we have made to the scientific understanding of this species and the authors of this news release know it."

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