SeaWorld, Southwest Airlines Terminate Partnership Amid 'Blackfish' Fallout

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Former Staff Writer
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After 25 years, SeaWorld and Southwest Airlines have jettisoned a co-marketing partnership, as fallout from Blackfish -- a 2013 documentary that depicts the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau and condems captive killer whales -- continues to make waves for the aquatic theme park.

The announcement follows widespread urgings from animal activists, including a petition on change.org that garnered over 30,000 signatures. “This just goes to show that companies do really value customers’ opinions,” wrote its creator, Robin Merritt.

While activists are calling the move a win, a joint statement by SeaWorld and Southwest makes no mention of the film and instead chalks the separation up to “shifting priorities.”

Related: One Way to Turn Customers Into Raving Fans: Be Controversial

“With an increasing international visitor base, SeaWorld is looking to focus on new and growing markets in Latin America and Asia, among others,” the companies said.

The partnership included three Southwest planes painted with SeaWorld animals, signs advertising the airline at parks and even vacation packages -- which will continue to be available, reports the AP. The planes will be repainted and the signs taken down.

Questions continue to linger about just how much Blackfish has impacted SeaWorld sales. In the months following the release of the film, SeaWorld’s president and CEO, Jim Atchison said, "As much data as we have and as much as we look, I can't connect anything really between the attention that the film has gotten and any effect on our business."

But in the first quarter of this year, the company reported a 13 percent decrease in attendance resulting in an 11 percent drop in revenues.

Related: 'Fit Mom' on Strategizing After Online Backlash

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