Administrators at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School cancelled an annual spring field trip to SeaWorld last week after students and parents complained of unethical treatment of orca whales alleged at the park in the controversial new documentary “Blackfish.” 

Although there are varying accounts of how the issue was initially presented to the school—namely, whether parents first brought it to the attention of Point Dume Principal Rebecca Johnson or if fifth-grade student Kirra Kotler originally presented the idea of cancelling the field trip to her classmates—Johnson said the cancellation came down to what was best for students. 

“My decision was guided by what was the best thing for all my students,” Johnson said when asked about whether the documentary or its contents swayed the cancellation. 

“Blackfish” tells the story of a massive orca whale named Tilikum, a male with a history of aggression that killed a trainer at the Orlando SeaWorld theme park in 2010. Prior to the 2010 incident, Tilikum had already been associated with the deaths of two other people. 

After a survey of parents found that several students would not participate in the trip, which is typically scheduled for March, Johnson said she decided to cancel and instead search for a trip that would include every student. 

Some parents are reportedly unhappy about the cancellation, which many consider a bonding experience for the class before it moves on to middle school. Principal Johnson estimated that the trip had been a yearly tradition for at least 10 years, and is booked up to a year in advance. 

It seems that even the parents who opposed the trip are displeased with the way the cancellation was handled by school administrators. 

Social media was abuzz with activity last week regarding whether the trip would be cancelled or not, as it seemed to some that the decision was being dragged out. Dianette Wells, whose three grown children attended Point Dume, was one of several community members who weighed in on the issue online. When it seemed that the trip would go through as planned, she proposed the idea of a petition against the field trip. Now that it is not, she expressed hope the trip would be discontinued. 

“I am very proud that the school did the right thing,” Wells said. “I hope it’s not just a one-year, knee-jerk reaction. I hope they truly understand how wrong it is that these whales are in captivity, and none of us should be paying money to see that.” 

The documentary, released in the United States on July 19, and first shown on CNN this October, claims that the tragic death of the SeaWorld trainer in Florida could have been avoided if SeaWorld had been more cautious and aware of the dangers present at the park. In addition, comments made in “Blackfish” suggest that the violent nature of Tilikum was induced by psychological and emotional trauma he suffered throughout his life at the hands of humans and through the more dominant whales in captivity with him. 

While tracing the timeline from Tilikum’s capture through his life of confinement and violence, the documentary paints a picture of what the creators of the film, who include CNN, believe to be the animal abuse inherent in keeping animals as large and intelligent as orcas in captivity. 

This is not a sentiment echoed by SeaWorld’s spokespeople. Communications Director David Koontz said in an email that the film “paints a distorted picture of SeaWorld” and should therefore not be billed as a documentary at all. According to Koontz, more than 15,000 children participate every year in overnight education programs at the San Diego SeaWorld alone—the type of trip the Pt. Dume fifth grade class customarily takes. 

In fact, the spokesman claimed that PDMSS’s cancellation due to the issues raised by the documentary is unprecedented. 

“This is the only instance of a camp cancellation that we’ve experienced,” wrote Koontz. 

While Point Dume may be the first school group to cancel its SeaWorld weekend, it was preceded by many more high-profile cancellations: namely, big-name musical acts. In the past few weeks, Martina McBride, 38 Special, Barenaked Ladies, Heart, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick and Trisha Yearwood have all cancelled scheduled performances at SeaWorld theme parks. 

Although heat seems to be intensifying, SeaWorld remains unconcerned about more schools withdrawing their support. “There has been no need to change or adjust our educational programs,” said Koontz, before pointing out that the program follows science standards set by the state of California. 

Currently, Principal Johnson and other staff at Pt. Dume are searching for suitable replacement field trips that will be universally satisfactory. Some parents are hopeful that a new tradition may be made for the benefit of students and the mission of the school. There is also a feeling that more could be done by the community here in Malibu to improve conditions at SeaWorld. 

(21) comments

Lois Lyons

Matt Horns asks for my identity. My identity would add nothing to the conversation. I wish to remain anonymous and to allow my posts to stand on their own merits.

The post I made was edited by MT. I had made some further comments.

My position is that Sea World is being condemned by practices engaged in many years ago under different management and is a completely different organization today. It operates under US Government regulations. I have no connection to Sea World but dislike seeng an organization condemned unfairly by people who aren't seeing the whole picture.


Few people are aware that SeaWorld also has a rescue/rehab/release program. The one in San Diego was crucial in last winter/spring's baby sea lion crisis. They rescue hundreds of animals (dolphins, sea lions, elephant seals, harbor seals turtles, entangled whales, etc.) every year. The animals have usually been impacted by human interaction (fishing line/nets, gun shot wounds, boat strikes, etc.)They are rehabilitated in their rehab facility and then released back into the wild. They also sponsor and host educational conferences for members of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, with the most up to date info in those areas. The Rehab Program and all the research they do helps thousands of rescuers like myself, do more to help animals that come ashore in dire straits.
The rehab facility does tours as well. Perhaps the children could be taken on one of those tours and see what SeaWorld does to educate and help marine mammals in need.

Matt Horns

MMA's post sounds good, but to me it would be much more convincing if it included a person's real name and contact information.

Lois Lyons

For the record,

Statement from Sea World

"In response to criticism leveled at SeaWorld and other marine parks by the award-winning documentary film The Cove which accuses them of obtaining dolphins obtained in drive hunts, SeaWorld spokesperson Fred Jacobs stated that, "We think we're being unfairly criticized for something we're opposed to."He adds that, "SeaWorld opposes the dolphin hunts documented in The Cove. We do not purchase any animals from these hunts. More than 80 percent of the marine mammals in our care were born in our parks. We haven't collected a dolphin from the wild in decades."Since 1993 there have been no permits issued to facilities in the United States to import dolphins acquired through drive hunt methods. Marilee Menard, the executive director of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, has also stated that she believes that The Cove filmmakers are "misrepresenting that the majority of zoos and aquariums with dolphins around the world are taking these animals."

"SeaWorld operates its conservation program in cooperation with the Department of the Interior, National Marine Fisheries Service and state agencies; its rescue and rehabilitation program was developed to comply with the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Since its inception SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has rescued or helped more than 22,000 animals, including ill, orphaned or abandoned and injured manatees, dolphins, pilot whales, sea turtles, and birds. As part of its animal rehabilitation program, SeaWorld has claimed the first birth of a killer whale in captivity, the first birth of a marine mammal via artificial insemination, and the first hatching of captive green sea turtles."

The Anheuser-Busch company purchased Sea World in 1989, and Sea World today has no connection to the collection of animals outlined in the documentaries. 

I don't know who is right in this controversy but it should not be impossible to find out if Sea World has a point. To people who are against all such facilities, including zoos, and want them closed down, it won't matter if Sea World is doing right or wrong. But to those who are interested in the truth about how Sea World operates today, both sides should be heard and evidence rather than hysteria on either side should be weighed. 

Matt Horns

I hugely enjoy being on the same side of this issue with a former opponent and a potential beautiful ally Wendi Werner. I'm hoping that we are all getting closer to the time that we we work together rather than against each other.

Matt Horns

The last time I ventured out into Santa Monica Bay was when Heal the Bay paid for us volunteers to join with a whale watching tour out of Redondo Beach. We encountered the resident population of 500 or so common dolphins five miles offshore of Venice Beach. The Captain told us that they appeared to be in feeding mode and he did not to disturb them, so he stopped the boat a 1/4 mile away from them.

Within one minute a group of around thirty dolphins detected our presence and raced to our boat. They swam circles around us leaping out of the water doing all kinds of acrobatics. The dolphins obviously enjoyed putting on a show for us.

Can anyone else describe similar encounters with wild cetaceans?

Matt Horns


A friend of mine was on a whale watching excursion a few miles offshore of Palos Verdes when they happened upon a major whale drama. Two orcas were attacking an adult fin whale (second-largest whale on the planet, this one was around 90 feet long). The orcas were taking small bites from the fin whale. When one of the orcas was in the right position, the fin whale reared its tail out of the water and gave it a spine-shattering whomp. The orcas fled.

Dani Sue

I agree with Matt on the MB Aquarium. Or, like Wendi suggests, you could send them out on a boat to watch the real Orca show. The pod off of Palos Verdes is famous for attacking young Gray's while the mothers attempt to fight them off with little success. Sea lion snack anyone? A little too graphic for elementary students.

The future of Sea World should go from entertainment to rehabilitation. Times have changed and even toddlers are no longer entertained by jumping cetaceans and head shaking pinipeds. Monterrey has shown that you can draw public funds with education. And a rogue wave splash is every bit as exciting as Shamu's tail splash in a tank.

Matt Horns

Monterrey Bay Aquarium

is a perfect model for the next generation of public aquariums. They are not about entertainment They are about education and research.

One of my favorite things that Monterrey Bay Aquarium is doing is research into the imperilled great white shark.

Here in LA the Long Beach Aquarium

and Cabrillo Aquarium

share in the same spirit as Monterrey Bay Aquarium.


GREAT decision! An alternative trip? Take them on whale watch boats to see cetaceans where they belong--in the ocean. Find a boat that has trained naturalists on board to teach them about the whales and dolphins who live in the Pacific and around the world. HAVE THE WATCH BLACKFISH IN THE CLASSROOM, then have discussions and have them write papers. Have them read Death at SeaWorld. Bless you for making the decision to not promote the slavery of whales.


Way to go! This is gaining momentum! Free the Orcas and Dolphins or CLOSE Sea World Down!

Rebecca Mann

CNN has picked up the story (I may have sent it to them the other day!) and delved a little deeper. Seems one 10 year old student, Kirra Kotler, galvanized this. One person, no matter how small, can make a difference. Kirra, we are so proud of you. And you too Principal Rebecca Johnson. Never been so proud to call Malibu home.

Matt Horns

A few years ago my family and I hiked the Point Dume coast. We observed six species of marine mammals within one mile of shoreline: California sea lions, harbor seals, harbor porpoises, common dolphins, Rizzo's dolphins, and a sea otter.

Thank goodness this is now a Marine Protected Area.

Matt Horns

Many times I have seen wild cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses) put on great shows. We do not need to enslave them for entertainment. When we visit them in their homes, they are quite entertaining.

Matt Horns

Fish, with brains varying in size from a grain of sand to a pea, do quite well in aquariums. Marine mammals with brains larger than ours? Not so much. One exception, in my opinion is sea otters. Sea otters at Monterrey Aquarium look very happy and healthy. That's possibly because an entire family and community of them are living together.

Wendi Dunn

The dolphins from the cove are hand picked and hauled out from the ocean and sent to aquariums for entertainment. Then the next batch are slaughtered.


Perhaps the Program follows the science standards for the state of California. Of Course the Executives at Sea World are going to say that "Blackfish" paints a distorted View of Sea World. They want to keep their jobs. However, the fact still remains that these Animals are still being mistreated. If you were kept in an enclosure thousands or even millions of times smaller than what you need to be in, then poked and prodded, not being given enough to eat and forced to do tricks, would you be happy? these animals need their natural habitat and freedom. The whole issue that the Orca became violent and killed his trainer is all that most people hear about.... Maybe try explaining your children that wild animals are just that ... "Wild Animals" "Blackfish" is amazing. Another film "The Cove" is another must see film. Be warned that "The Cove" is a very Brutal film about the capturing and slaughtering of dolphins in Taiji Japan. and it continues daily.


Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Meade

Way to go Point Dume Marine Science School (students)


There will be a big protest demonstration at SeaWorld Orlando starting at 10:00 AM on Sunday, December 22, 2013 at the main entrance There will also be one at the San Diego SeaWorld on the same date.

Lois Lyons

Take the kids to Las Vegas where they can observe the behavior of certain land animals. Now THAT would be educational.

Wendi Dunn

Take the students on a dolphin trip where they can be experienced in the wild. is just one of the many trips that these students can take. There are some fantastic trips in Channel Islands

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