The annual Seaworld meeting, that took place on Wednesday, faced new challenges launched against the company.
A storm of criticism confronted Seaworld, as world surfing champion a record 11 times Kelly Slater was prevented from submitting a question.
Seaworld is holding its stockholders' meeting online only for the second year now. Critics claim the meetings shelter companies' executives from controversy and rob shareholders of face-to-face interaction with them.
Given the opportunity to submit questions to Joel Manby, the company's new CEO, and other board members in an online forum, Kelly Slater was recruited by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)-a non-profit organization which owns stock in SeaWorld.
A rather pressing and integral question he posed though, remained without response.
The company was asked when it will be retiring its captive killer whales to coastal sanctuaries. Slater's aim was to instigate a change in the company's policy, and request that all orcas that have been in captivity for 40-years or longer, be released.
On the day of the meeting, Slater waited patiently for his question to appear on the online forum. "The forum was not accepting it...I know that others were accepted," said David Perle, PETA's senior media director.
Since the incident, SeaWorld officials have stated that they never received Slater's question.
Currently, it is unknown whether Seaworld intentionally failed to acknowledge Slater's question. However, once Slater took to social media and his 1.5 million Facebook followers to express his concerns, buzz once again began to centre around SeaWorld's ethical practices.
Slater wrote on his Facebook post: "The veil has been lifted on SeaWorld. All the ads in the world won't change what the public now knows to be true: that the company imprisons highly intelligent, emotionally complex, social animals in tiny, barren concrete tanks, which leads to aggression and disease."
"Please, tell us, when will SeaWorld allow the animals it holds captive to return to their home-the ocean-by retiring them to a seaside sanctuary?" Slater asked on Facebook. "And wouldn't this at least be viewed, if nothing else, as a public relations win for you?"
Seaworld's response gained much attention from the media and activist.
The New York post wrote, "SeaWorld's new chairman and chief executive insists that its captive orcas...would get sick and die if released into ocean sanctuaries."
According to the post, "more than 80 percent of our whales were born in our care, and sea pens would be a poor choice for them...Uncontrollable exposure to pollution, ocean debris and life-threatening pathogens in ocean waters are just a few of the factors that make sea pens an unhealthy living environment for any of our animals."
However, examples of marine mammals being successfully rehabilitated and released are evident. Keiko, the captive orca that stared in the 1993 hit movie Free Willy, spent several years in a sea pen before finally being released into the wild. More recently, two long-captive dolphins were also released, suggesting that if their health is carefully monitored, it is safe for captive marine mammals to be released into an ocean pen.
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