press reactions

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel by Joanne Weintraub

"FRONTLINE: A Whale of a Business ...has the sharpest focus and, not surprisingly, the most critical tone. It looks at Keiko, the star of the instant-classic "Free Willy" movie, the $15 million drive to send him back to the wild and the opposition to the campaign by those who run marine theme parks.

The human protagonists are nearly as interesting as Keiko; the environmentalist billionaire; the former "Flipper" trainer who now believes all marine mammals should be set free; the eminent veterinarian whose connection to Sea World has, from a liberationist's point of view, "drenched (him) in blood."

The operators of some theme parks do appear to have spilled blood in their pursuit of these immensely popular, enormously lucrative whales, and a few are downright fishy about their practices in on-camera interviews.

Yet some offenses they're charged with--placing sensitive creatures in an unnatural setting, for instance, or depriving them of stimulation--could also be made against those of us who neuter our dogs and declaw our cats. And, speaking about Keiko, still in captivity in an Oregon park, even a writer whose view of theme parks is far from friendly sees the real-life "Free Willy" campaign as "a weird spectacle that's built around a celebrity animal."

Los Angeles Times by Howard Rosenberg
Orcas, or killer whales, are the Mickey Mice of marine parks, making fortunes for Sea World and other such amusements venues the way cartoon characters turn huge profits at Disneyland."

"...This issue is addressed powerfully in a new FRONTLINE documentary this week titled 'A Whale of a Business'--a strong, opinionated PBS program that makes the high profile campaign to liberate 'Free Willy' star Keiko from his Oregon tank a metaphor for the stormy seas that sometime buffet the billion dollar-a-year marine amusement industry."

"...Even harder to watch, though, is the recent footage in FRONTLINE of Japanese fisherman trapping and slaughtering scores of dolphins and whales during a day at the office, as part of a selection process that captures some of these lucrative animals for theme parks. "

Sun-Sentinel by Tom Jicha
"With Keiko as a focal point, Tuesday night's engrossing FRONTLINE delves into fiercely contentious debate over the propriety of keeping animals, especially creatures of the sea, in captivity for the entertainment of human beings.

The PBS documentary hour is admirably balanced, with all factions having their say. The Sea World chain of theme parks, which controls about half the killer whales in captivity, defends its activities as being educational. Sea World representatives say that their shows create an appreciation of the majestic creatures of the deep and elicit support for their preservation in the wild."

"...Activists object to every stage of the process that brings animals to a show-business setting. State laws have made it all but impossible to capture whales off U.S. shores, so the theme parks have to look overseas for their whales and dolphins. FRONTLINE lends credence to the objections with footage of whale and dolphin hunts in Japan, which are conducted in a brutal, inhumane manner.

However, while the arguments against animal captivity pack an emotional wallop, it should be remembered that if absolutists had their way, they would ban zoos, circuses, rodeos, races, meat on the table and leather shoes on your feet. Some are even against the concept of pets. After all, the difference between Keiko at Sea World and a tropical fish tank in your home is just a matter of size."

The San Francisco Chronicle by John Carman
"Called 'A Whale of a Business,' the program centers on theme parks such as Sea World in San Diego--Marine World/ Africa USA in Vallejo escapes mention--where performing killer whales are the star attractions."

"...Inevitably, FRONTLINE comes down to the fundamental issue--the morality of seizing animals from the wild, even if it's ostensibly for the betterment of humans.

FRONTLINE is too fuzzy with the details. What are the U.S. laws about capturing killer whales? What year, or even decade, was the first killer whale bought for a Seattle aquarium?

It's also excessively prosecutorial toward Sea World owner Anheuser-Bush, Sea World officials and former Sea World veterinarian Lanny Cornell, who is luridly described by an animal-rights activist as 'drenched in blood.'

But it's also an hour or revelations, likely to provoke genuine unease about the seemingly benign marine theme park industry."

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