Blackfish Blackguard?

So, yet another pro-captivity ex-SeaWorld trainer launches their smear campaign on the hitherto unheard of “Micechat” website.
Following in the vein set by pro-captivity advocate Bridgette Pirtle this time Mark Simmons feels it is his duty to vent his spleen over Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s increasingly controversial documentary “Blackfish”.

http://http://micechat.com/54370-blackfish-backlash/

So, what’s all the fuss about this time?

Well, it seems that Mr Simmons feels he has been misrepresented by the movie makers and that made him feel a bit poorly. (A rumbling spleen, perhaps?)

We asked Mark what his first reaction was upon watching the CNN documentary Blackfish for the first time.

“Physical nausea. If you’ve ever been in a place in your life where you know something intimately, and to watch a movie about that thing, one that appears very well done, very credible, yet which is a complete perversion of your reality…you’ll know what I felt like. I was sickened on every level. It was masterfully woven with lies and disinformation and just enough truth to convince almost anyone that didn’t know better. Worse, not an ounce of the counterpoints I provided for the film were used. In fact, what Gabriela used made my position appear congruent to that of the film’s claim. I was embarrassed and, to some degree, initially I was angry.”

Oh, dear. Poor chap. Think he’d be a bit more used to a “perverted reality” considering his employment with SeaWorld, wouldn’t you?
Anyway, Mr Simmons claims that his comments and position within the documentary “appear congruent to that of the film’s claim”. Well, for starter’s the film barely “claims” anything. It shows Tilikum’s timeline, from his capture in 1983 to his life shortly after the tragic events of 2010. That’s it. It isn’t a deliberate attempt at propaganda either for or against SeaWorld, it is first and foremost the tale of a whale. Tilikum is a victim of circumstance, and the film shows this. If, on the journey, things about orca capture and incarceration don’t sit well with the viewer, then “Blackfish” is an excellent starting point for research and investigation into why the movie makes you feel that way.

I find it really rather odd that Mr Simmons, who is clearly a supporter of SeaWorld, claims that his position was in harmony with the film. Mr Simmons says in “Blackfish”:
“What if there were no SeaWorlds? I can’t imagine a society with the value we put in marine mammals if these parks didn’t exist”.

Mr Simmons really needs to exercise his imagination a bit more, many countries (and therefore societies) don’t have “these parks”, my own included, and we value marine mammals for what they are, not what they can provide in a “park”. Not every country needs captive dolphins or wants captive dolphins. It’s almost as if Mr Simmons has a hidden agenda…

Whilst many people (including OSHA) are claiming that the whales are inherently dangerous, and are actively seeking a complete and total ban on trainers entering the water, Mr Simmons is convinced that SeaWorld can prevent disaster from happening again:
“Can SeaWorld create an environment where it can never happen again? Yes, I absolutely believe they can”

This is a clear statement of support for SeaWorld and goes directly against the claim that his “counterpoints” weren’t used. It certainly is not in harmony with the rest of the film and the message that captivity is damaging these animals; possibly beyond repair. In fact, Mr Simmons’ comments in “Blackfish” actually stand out as being the only pro-captivity utterances by any of the individuals interviewed. Everyone else makes it plain that they feel either that captivity is wrong, Tilikum is severely mentally damaged and/or both.

But, perhaps Mr Simmons has a much more sinister reason for supporting marine parks other than the already reprehensible you-can’t-love-them-unless-you-see-them approach favoured by so many pro-captivity advocates, for Mr Simmons has a murky history of actively engaging his company in the capture of wild dolphins and selling them on to the highest bidder. All in the name of “conservation”, you understand.  

The company in question is Ocean Embassy, of which Mr Simmons is “Secretary and Treasurer of the Board and Executive Vice President for Ocean Embassy, Inc. and Wildlife International Network, Inc. (parent company of Ocean Embassy).” or, put another way, SeaWorld Mk II.
Ocean Embassy FAQ 1
I think the words “very little” can be applied to the wild population who need no human assistance with anesthesia, surgery, advanced diet, vitamin supplements and neonatal feeding.

Funny isn’t it, how dolphins survived in the ocean for millennia without any human intervention what so ever, but now they just can’t live without us?Ocean Embassy FAQ 3

No, no, no!

Like the “snake oil salesmen” who peddle Dolphin-Assisted Therapies there is absolutely no grounds on which to base this load of old nonsense. Take a trip to a museum, I bet they’ve got skeletons on display of long dead dinosaurs and I guarantee that a small child picked at random will be able to tell you whether it is a Brontosaurus  or a Triceratops and what it’s dietary requirements were. Yet nobody has seen a dinosaur for real, let alone interact with one. The passion is the same though.

As I have stated before, I have never seen a dolphin or whale “in the flesh” but I campaign for their freedom to be at peace because THEY have touched ME, not the other way round. You only have to see a dolphin documentary to know, in your very soul, that captivity is no place for them.

Ocean Embassy can go places that SeaWorld fear to tread, however.

Ocean Embassy Panama. http://http://www.oceanembassy.com/expertise.html A facility that wants to breed dolphins for the captive industry,conservation, profit ” enrichment for animals and guests, public education, and scientific observation and study.” ( http://www.oceanembassy.com/oe_panama.html ) and peddled as “a resort for ocean lovers.” No, I don’t think so!

Basically, an expensive holiday resort with added dolphins. Quite how the life of a captive dolphin is “enriched” by being kept in a tank and used as a plaything is beyond me. As it should be beyond us all.

The path of Ocean Embassy Panama has not run smooth, however. Well, every new venture has stumbling blocks…

First it dealt with critics:

“Ocean Embassy doesn’t plan to just go out and grab a bunch of dolphins for the park, Turner (Ted N. Turner, the Vice President of International Operations for Ocean Embassy) said. There will be extensive studies of dolphin populations in Panamanian waters, both on the Atlantic and Pacific sides. Veterinarians and other scientists will do population studies and health assessments and provide “baseline information” that Panama now lacks. These, he pointed out, would be only the second such population assessment in the Meso-American region and its first ever dolphin health assessment. Only after these studies are done will the company decide where in Panama to go in search of dolphins to catch for its park.”

and then showed a flair for outrageous arrogance by effectively stating “what we don’t know, won’t bother us”. How’s that for “research”?

“But what about the objection that the dissolution of pods by the capture of some of their members is a disaster for those pod members who are not captured? Turner said that this objection is based on assumptions drawn from incomplete knowledge of dolphin behavior, and that really, nobody knows the effect of captures on pods.” 

http://http://www.thepanamanews.com/pn/v_13/issue_03/business_02.html

When that fails to placate the critics (and quite frankly, why should it) Ocean Embassy spits out it’s dummy (pacifier), files quite bizarre charges and generally acts like a spoiled brat who has been “misrepresented”. Now where have I heard that before?

http://http://www.thepanamanews.com/pn/v_13/issue_09/news_01.html

Ocean Embassy and therefore, Mr Simmons, feel that to attack a Catholic organisation dedicated to animal welfare is perfectly acceptable behaviour because Ocean Embassy firmly believe that they have God on their side:
Ocean Embassy FAQ 4

Clearly there is no level to which they won’t stoop, which readily removes them from any moral debate and destroys their credibility. Anyone who “brings God in to it”, clearly feels that they have some Divine Right by which they are the “Chosen” and all must bow down to their greater knowledge. Rampant ignorance is one thing, but a “Holier than Thou” attitude cannot and should not be tolerated. Are we not all equal in the sight of this God? Or were some more “blessed” than others? Personally, I won’t believe in a God that allows humankind to behave intolerably towards any other living being, and anyone who uses religion to sway their argument is beneath contempt.

If any more proof were needed that Ocean Embassy are in it for the money, then read this article that links them directly to Christopher “Dolphin Broker” Porter (who they are currently attempting to disassociate from, it would seem) and the capture and sale of dolphins stolen from the ocean around the Solomon Islands and sold to Dubai for a huge profit.

http://http://www.animalpeoplenews.org/07/7/dolphincaptures7_07.html

Sadly, but only for Ocean Embassy, compassion and intelligence won the day and Ocean Embassy were denied a permit to catch Panamanian dolphins. Now they can legitimately say that they look like SeaWorld, sound like SeaWorld, act like SeaWorld and even know how it feels to be SeaWorld.

“The opponents of the dolphin capture proposal got help from abroad, including from the Humane Society in the United States and particularly from former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, at one time the renowned handler of “Flipper” (actually, six different dolphins in the movie and TV series) but since the death of one of the animals a militant opponent of dolphin captures.

“It’s great for the dolphins and it’s great for the people of Panama — especially those magnificent Panamanians who showed up to protest the dolphin captures,” O’Barry said in an email to The Panama News. “Protesting works!” O’Barry added that “now that Ocean Embassy has packed up their capture nets and left the country with their tail between their legs, Panama continues to be a ‘dolphin friendly country.’ We will continue to follow them wherever they go.””

http://http://www.thepanamanews.com/pn/v_14/issue_13/news_01a.html

 (Bridgette Pirtle please take very careful note of Mr O’Barry’s comment about protesting.)

Anyway, back to the “interview”:

At that time who did she tell you was involved in the production of the film?

“She wouldn’t tell me anyone who was involved in the film. All she told me was that at that point in time SeaWorld had not yet agreed to talk to her. They hadn’t said no yet, but they hadn’t committed yet. She asked me for a list of people she could talk to and I gave her a few names, but I really got the impression I was the first one she interviewed.”

Why on earth should she? What does it have to do with you? So what if you were the first person to be interviewed? It has to start somewhere! NEXT!

Who is Tim Zimmerman? (sic)

“He’s a journalist out of Washington DC that does freelance, I think. He’s done pieces for National Geographic. In 2010, I interviewed with him, long before I met Gabriela, and he was writing a piece… an article at that time on Dawn’s death, and that interview and that exchange was very productive for a while.

When Tim’s article came out, I felt he had purposely left out some very key topics that I had shared with him. In fact, I had reiterated to him how important they were. He argued with me on my point of view. You know I had been in this field 27 years and here he was arguing with me on the experience that I had been through. It became pretty apparent to me and his agenda was very clear. He was anti-SeaWorld, anti-zoo, and no bones about it.”

Sorry Mr Simmons, but if you give an interview to a journalist then you really ought to find out what position they might take or opinions they might have. If you don’t, then it’s hard cheese to you. A couple of minutes on the internet researching Mr Zimmermann would have told you what it seemed to take an age for you work out alone. It is the domain of tyrants and despots to try and make sure that the points they consider salient are included in any interview. If you wanted an “I Love SeaWorld” article, you should have researched your interviewer with a little more care and then spoken to a SeaWorld fan group. Still, better late than never, eh?

Had you been made aware by Gabriela that Tim Zimmerman (sic) was involved with the project?

“No, I would not have done the interview, no way, no way at all. She knew I would not have anything to do with Tim.”

Now I wonder why that is? Could this be the same Tim Zimmermann that you  harangued and used as a whipping boy for your less than complementary remarks about Jeff Ventre, John Jett and Dean Gommersall? I rather think it might be…The condescending manner is also more than irritating. I just can’t help but think of the mean girl from school, you know the one, she constantly attacks you and your friends and she’s always the only one who is ever right and tries to make mud stick to damage credibility. Other pro-SeaWorld ex-trainers have tried to do this, but Mr Simmons seems to have perfected his technique. Blithely disregarding his own “advice” of “representing a balanced picture”.

simmons 2

I cannot possible post all of his vitriolic comments here, so I invite you to read for yourself the original articles and the responses from both Mr Simmons and Mr Zimmermann. Throughout the whole “bun fight”, Mr Zimmermann displays creditable composure, while others do not.

https://web.archive.org/web/20100824180722/http://timzimmermann.com/2010/07/22/diary-of-a-killer-whale-analyzing-sources-and-motivations/

http://http://onpoint.wbur.org/2010/07/23/more-on-killer-whales-tim-zimmermans-on-point-post

Three years after the above posts were published, Mr Simmons is still engaged in what appears to be blossoming in to a bit of a vendetta against Mr Zimmermann. Anyone would think he’d got under *somebody’s* skin…
http://http://timzimmermann.com/2013/11/01/blackfish-fallout-debunking-a-slander/#comments

Even though he wouldn’t have appeared in Blackfish because of Mr Zimmermann’s involvement, it is A-OK for Mr Simmons to behave akin to a wannabe-stalker and plaster disinformation regarding ex- SeaWorld colleagues all over every where?  Why not just “rise above it”? Oh, yeah…because you don’t get any attention that way, do you?

The interview with “Micechat” continues:

During your 3 hour interview, what did you share with Gabriela?

“Everything. She interjected questions, but largely let me talk without restriction. I talked about the uniqueness of Tilikum apart from other SeaWorld whales. I talked about Dawn’s death and what I knew, and what I extrapolated from the available evidence. We talked about killer whales in general, covering topics from zoological whales to those in the wild, waterwork with the whales and the importance of same, and we talked about the impact of SeaWorld on the public and conservation as a whole. I can’t recall every detail, but it was the most thorough interview I had done in many years. I don’t think there’s much we didn’t cover. However, having now seen the film, it seems clear to me that I was one of the first interviews. Based on some of the content in the film, it appeared to me that Jeff and John had seen my interview before doing theirs. Of course, Gabriela wouldn’t even tell me who else she was talking to at the time of my interview. She also wouldn’t tell me who was funding the film. I asked the question directly. She politely and convincingly told me she wasn’t at liberty to disclose the information at that time.”

How is it clear who was interviewed first? Is it simply because the words of Mr Simmons sit (as I have already said) at odds with the words of others? Or is it because Mr Ventre appears immediately after Mr Simmons in one segment and contradicts Mr Simmons’ points? You know, the ones he made that weren’t included in the film. Except they were.
I am at a loss as to why the film-maker would divulge such information as to who was funding the movie. Who needs to know that? It’s a need to know basis, I am sure…..

When did you first see Blackfish?

“I saw it when it was aired on CNN. I never had access to it before that.”

Wow, shed-loads of other people managed to drag themselves to a cinema when it went on general release. It was so popular that new venues kept being added to the list. For somebody so keen to know who was in it and who funded it and how their words might be used it seems odd that it took so long before “access” was available, and then to take a further 3 months before speaking out against it. That must have been a doozy of a “nausea” attack.

What would you like people to know about Blackfish if they are going to see it?

“Well, first I would say this is not a documentary, it’s an expose, but that’s not enough for me. I would tell them there’s a very Machiavellian undercurrent here. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what their purpose is. I have to assume that, on some level, Gabriela is looking for something that would launch her career, because that’s the only good that could come of it. In that regard, I would tell them to just watch it. Sure, go watch it, but as soon as you’re done watching it, go to SeaWorld and ask them. Ask them what their opinion is and do some research.”

IF there is a “Machiavellian undercurrent” then it is one employed by Mr Simmons on many occasions in the past, so it is understandable that he can recognise it with such ease.

Is there anything in Blackfish that you feel Gabriela included, after interviewing you, that was contrary to the facts as you presented them? In other words, that she knew was false?

“Well, for starters, Gabriela was very clever in that every bit of narrative in the movie came from the cast of characters she pieced together. So the movie in and of itself doesn’t provide a script or provide an opinion or a statement directly. So the liability of the deceit, the disinformation, or even more than a handful of the blatant lies in the movie comes right from the mouths of individuals on screen. The issue about the arm being swallowed, that was a clearly manufactured deceit, because that didn’t happen.”

When Detective Revere interviews SeaWorld paramedic Thomas Tobin. He claims that “he (Tilikum) swallowed it” (the arm). Is Mr Tobin lying to the detective so that 3 years later it can be used in a documentary? Probably not.

I find it vulgar in the extreme that in a movie that is, according to it’s detractors, overflowing with lies and deceit that the “best” example of “manufactured deceit” used is that of a documented event concerning a person who tragically, through no fault of her own, is no longer with us.

What other inaccuracies and/or fabrications from trainers can you recall that are of significance?

“Jeff [Ventre] talks about the filming of a show where Tilikum had lunged at a trainer, and he was allegedly told to destroy the evidence. I was there that day. I’m the one that put Jeff out there to film the show. Not only did no one ever tell him to destroy the tape, but that incident never happened to begin with. The show in question was filmed and shown on the Jumbo-Tron, as well as recorded in security camera footage. If anything like that would have occurred, we would have evaluated it and used it for our behavioral review committee. In fact, Jeff was so anti-management, which ultimately ended up costing him his job, that had there been a video of any event such as that, he would have done the exact opposite if anyone asked him to destroy it.

And that’s not the only lie. They show a baby killer whale along with the image of a very young killer whale, while talking about how SeaWorld rips babies away from their mothers. Well, that never happened. We didn’t remove calves from their moms until their moms had weaned them. That wasn’t our decision, that was mom’s decision. In some cases, mom is ready to breed again. In that case, a lot of time, the moms will actually physically displace or harm the older calf. So, in some cases you have to separate them for the safety of the calf.

Also, the analysis of Dawn’s fateful session…there’s a lot of things you could tear apart about that. But the most relevant is that Dawn’s level of experience dwarfed that of all those other trainers that were narrating this film, ten fold.

They said she was out of food. There is always food available! There were emergency buckets kept around the pool. That had no bearing.

Secondly, Dawn was of an experience level that, if Tilikum had been showing signs of declining in the session, she would have never continued on into a relationship session with him, lying in the water and rubbing him down. But again, here’s another means to mislead the public, to put ideas into their heads that just aren’t real.

But, a bigger lie that permeated throughout the movie was that killer whales are dangerous and they can’t be kept in captivity, that it crazes them.

Dawn would have never been laying down with Tilikum if he was crazed, and any commonsense person would recognize that. But beyond that, the movie goes on to say that SeaWorld purposely deceived its trainers and deceived the public, and that couldn’t be further from the truth!

I think that’s one of the things that really stood out and shocked me, because it was a polar opposite there. If anything, SeaWorld was obsessive compulsive about how we analyzed every interaction with whales; where there were precursors to aggression or any form of aggression. If you ever felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to get in the water, NO one chided you. All you needed to say was ‘I’m feeling a little off, I don’t want to do this session,’ and you were out. That’s it. Everything was reviewed forensically. So this idea that SeaWorld deceived anyone…I’ve never in my entire career there, nor my friends in their careers there, have ever experienced anything like that.”

With regards to the video-tape, if it was used, and not destroyed as claimed by Mr Ventre…..where is it? Why has it never surfaced?

Mother/calf separation happens. Fact. Takara is a prime “Blackfish” example. Calves in the wild stay with pod right through to the end of their lives. Not just until their “cute factor” starts to pale.  Sure, Momma might get fed up with the nursing and wean them off, but that’s nature. She sure as Hell doesn’t banish them from the pod because she’s feeling fertile.

Please, really, Dawn Brancheau again? Leave the poor girl alone already. Nobody, including Mr Simmons (who wasn’t there either), knows what Dawn was thinking. What I do know, is that the ex-trainers featured in the film give their considered opinion. That is all. They weren’t there, but it helps people who don’t know the intricacies of Orca training by explaining what might have been a pre-cursor. It’s possible the bucket of fish was getting light, it’s possible that Tilikum did miss the bridge, it’s equally possible that something else triggered the awful events that followed. Squabbling over the death of a fellow human being is highly distasteful and massively exploitative and deeply reprehensible. Let her rest in peace.

Of course Orca have the potential to be dangerous. They are an apex predator. They are also enormous and (naturally) at home in an environment that is alien to us. That gives them a huge advantage. We cannot survive in their world any more than they can leave the water and bounce around on Terra Firma. If, they aren’t dangerous then why does SeaWorld recognise pre-cursors to aggression?

Do you think SeaWorld still serves a worthwhile public purpose in an age of mainstream animal activism?

“SeaWorld was the original ocean activist. They move more people to take action than all the proclaimed animal rights extremists combined, every year, year in and year out. When you look at SeaWorld in the broader scope of zoological presentation, and you’ve probably heard this before because it’s a little bit cliché at this point, but more people attend zoos and aquariums in this country than all professional sports combined. If you look at that globally, it’s staggering, it’s absolutely staggering. But what’s interesting about the impact that parks like SeaWorld have is what we’re talking about right here. If they didn’t have the emotional and engaging impact and create a framework for the care for these animals, Blackfish would have never had an audience. CNN would never had been interested. There’s no question, SeaWorld is a vital social institution.”

Oh, we’re “extremist” because we know that cetacean captivity is inherently wrong. We know that SeaWorld’s decimation of the SRKW’s was extreme. They wouldn’t have stopped until they were all gone. Then they would have moved on to Iceland.

You cannot, absolutely cannot take a figure from the US population regarding zoos and aquariums and apply it on a global scale. It simply doesn’t work. Please, stop. I’m embarrassed for you.

I don’t know why I am having to say this again, BUT….SeaWorld does not encourage the average person to rush out and hug a turtle or cuddle a manatee or protect wild cetaceans from capture and slaughter.

SeaWorld encourages people to return to SeaWorld. That is all.

If it did actually give a monkey’s wossname, it would NOT be actively seeking the import of 18 Beluga while hiding behind Georgia Aquarium. It would not have attempted to garner reproductive organs from slaughtered dolphins in Japan. It would roundly condemn the capture of Russian Orca.

It encourages people to “love” an animal that doesn’t exist. It wants, needs people to buy into the myth that Orca are cute and little more than big watery puppy dogs. The animals confined to SeaWorld tanks are a grotesque parody of a real orca, they can barely echo-locate, they cannot choose a mate, they cannot eat a natural diet and half of the time they cannot even communicate with their fellow inmates. It most certainly does not encourage people to challenge the “truth” of what they are told in the way that Blackfish leaves lingering doubts and questions. If SeaWorld really did encourage people to love and respect the ocean and the life within in, SeaWorld would go the way of all the other dinosaurs. Extinct.

As a dolphin broker who clearly has a vested interest in the survival of institutions such as SeaWorld, it seems clear that Mr Simmons is not exactly going to be on the side of “Blackfish”, and as has been shown his major tactic is to try and discredit anything he doesn’t believe in by attacking the credentials and credibility of those he finds on the opposite side of the fence. Anyone who aligns themselves with someone who can make such a disrespectful and frankly ghoulish claim as this one below, deserves to lose all and any respect.

Bimple 1

(BP is, of course pro-SeaWorld ex-trainer Bridgett Pirtle.)

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One response to “Blackfish Blackguard?

  1. Very interesting piece! This is another shady organisation linked to the two you mentioned… http://marinemammalconservancy.org/research/advisory-group

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