How SeaWorld's empire collapsed — a  tragedy in 3 acts.

Like in a Greek tragedy, SeaWorld stepped onto the stage with good intentions and then crumbled its own empire through hubris, selfishness, and the mistreatment of a kingdom it claimed to love.

Photo by Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images.


In three acts, this is how SeaWorld's orca program collapsed:

Act I. In the beginning, Sea World convinced us to love orca whales. And we listened.

"Americans' attitudes about orcas have changed dramatically," wrote SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times. "When the first SeaWorld Park opened in 1964, orcas, or killer whales, were not universally loved, to put it mildly. Instead, they were feared, hated and even hunted."

Who do we have to thank for that shift in whale PR? According to Manby: SeaWorld.


Photo by Matt Stroshane/Getty Images.

Of course, back in 1971, when the "Shamu Goes Hollywood" show premiered, no one knew that SeaWorld’s methods of acquiring the whales were questionable enough to get them sued by Washington state in 1976 and land them in a three year court battle in 1983 while trying to capture whales illegally in Alaska.

Given that most people’s knowledge of killer whales came from SeaWorld, we believed the company when it said orcas only live to be 30 years old, that dorsal fin collapse was normal, and that whales at SeaWorld were kept with their biological families.

Families vacationed at SeaWorld, children left the park carrying armfuls of Shamu stuffed animals, and the amusement park raked in profits by the hundreds of millions.

SeaWorld built its empire and cemented itself as the best place to see the world's new favorite creature for decades, and, with money coming in by the truckload and a public that loved seeing the whale tricks, it had a lot to be proud of.

As always, though, pride cometh before the fall.

Act II. "Blackfish" premiered, and we learned things were not as happy as they seemed.

Despite news coverage of two tragic deaths happening on Sea World properties in 1999 and 2010, no event in SeaWorld's history affected the company's public image more than the release of "Blackfish."

The 2013 documentary focused on the story of Tilikum, the Sea World orca responsible for those deaths, and the treatment he experienced at the park that may have led to his behavior.


"Blackfish" director Gabriela Cowperthwaite at the Sundance London Film and Music Festival. Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Sundance London.

After the documentary premiered, attendance at SeaWorld dropped, and profits plummeted by a staggering 84%.

Though SeaWorld maintains that "Blackfish" misrepresented its treatment of whales, the facts continue to prove that orca whales do not belong in small tanks, forced to perform for eager crowds. The millions of people who saw the film could never erase it from their image of the theme park, and we as a culture became irreversibly aware of how whales in captivity actually live.

The so-called Blackfish Effect culminated in further profit losses for SeaWorld over the next two years as well as a wave of protests.

In 2014, 19 people were arrested during the Tournament of Roses Parade in Los Angeles for trying to stop a SeaWorld float mid-parade, and four people including a 13-year-old girl jumped the barricade at the 2014 Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City to stop a SeaWorld float from progressing.

Photo via Prayitno/Flickr.

"Jackass" star Steve-O went to jail in October 2015 for scaling a massive crane with an inflatable orca in his own protest, and One Direction heartthrob Harry Styles shared a tweet imploring fans to stop going to SeaWorld. Protests became a regular occurrence outside SeaWorld locations and even at the airports of cities that SeaWorld called home.

Act III. SeaWorld swallowed its pride and finally began responding to the public outcry on behalf of the whales it had taught us to love.

Last year, SeaWorld announced that it would begin phasing out orca shows, marking the official end of days for its most famous (and infamous) attraction. On March 17, 2016, the company made waves again when it announced that it would officially end its controversial orca breeding program.

"SeaWorld has been listening and we're changing," the company said in a statement released on its website.

The park hasn't collected an orca from the wild in almost four decades. With the breeding program shutting down, the whales currently under SeaWorld's care will be its last. Of course, many of those whales are young, and some of them are pregnant. So it will be quite a while before orcas disappear from SeaWorld all together.

Photo by Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images.

And another thing that should be noted about this announcement is the timing — after all, Tilikum (the subject of "Blackfish") is currently dying of a bacterial lung infection.

Tilikum is in his 30s, and despite being connected to three deaths, he's SeaWorld's main source of breeding. When he dies, the SeaWorld breeding program would likely die with him, with or without SeaWorld's decision.

The collapse of the orca show is as much a victory for public opinion as it is for animal rights.

Despite the park's wealth and a team of lawyers that included Eugene Scalia (son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia), SeaWorld's orca shows simply couldn't survive the backlash of an angry public.

More important than anger, though, is evolution. It's one thing to be angry about how whales are treated, but "Blackfish" only highlighted something that had been going on for years.

The real victory here is that, once we were shown how bad it was, we voted with our wallets to let SeaWorld know that the mistreatment of animals is not something we support.

Photo by Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images.

That's not just a victory for the whales, it's a victory for our culture.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via US Secretary of Defense / Flickr and The Today Show

As the nation braces itself for the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, President Biden has embraced the family of George Floyd at what has to be an incredibly stressful time.

Following closing arguments in the Chauvin trial on Monday, Judge Peter Cahill has sent jurors to deliberate. The verdict is expected to come in the next few days.

"He was just calling," George's brother, Philonise Floyd, said about the president. "He knows how it is to lose a family member, and he knows the process of what we're going through. So he was just letting us know that he was praying for us, hoping that everything will come out to be OK."

Biden lost his wife and one-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident in 1972 and his son Beau to cancer in 2015.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

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"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

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Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

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"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

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