BOOK REVIEW: Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience

Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience

If you don’t mind wading through some academia-speak to get at the juicy parts, Spectacular Nature is a fascinating read recommended for Sea World fans and foes alike.

While one may already be familiar with the arguments for and against marine mammal captivity, Nature explores an essential, but neglected component of the argument: What is the nature and appeal of the Sea World parks? What is it that they are selling? Nature is not an animal rights or welfare book, but rather an exploration of the theme park and pop environmentalism phenomena.

Animal advocates who dismiss Sea World as nothing more than an underwater circus are missing the boat entirely. It is actually customers’ supposed sophistication regarding animal treatment and environmental concern that the theme park directly appeals to. As one Sea World spokesperson explains to the author:

It comes down to how people feel about the animals. That’s what Sea World is all about. If Disney is fantasy, Sea World is this feeling of sharing this planet with other species and animals, and the goodness you feel about the way they are cared for, or how much that trainer loves what he’s doing or appears to love what he’s doing.”

In other words, Sea World tries to appeal to the same part of the human brain as animal protection and environmental pleas. I personally visited the now defunct Sea World of Ohio with my family at around age twelve; I recall my reaction as being very similar to the findings of Davis’s research: I felt great amazement and affection for the animals, while at the same time having ambivalent feelings about the fact they were kept in featureless concrete tanks. Sea World’s attempts to deal with this apparently common mix of feelings in its patrons comprise some of the more absorbing aspects of the book.

In the wake of increased scrutiny of the park following the release of the movie The Cove and the Tilikum tragedy, it would be interesting to see an updated version of Nature. Sea World has since added roller coasters and other rides, anathema during the time this book was published. The park has also de-emphasized Shamu from its corporate logo, opting instead as a more generic stylized image.

I learned much from this book, including, much to my horror, that in the mid-90s “Shamu” was taught to “charge its trainer and threaten to bite him” during an action segment of the orca show. Any dog trainer can tell you what a terrible idea “attack games” are, let alone when the animal involved is a 5-ton apex predator. I couldn’t help but reflect on this in the wake of Tilikum’s attack.

Readers will close this book with a greater understanding of the workings behind the controversial Sea World empire.

(review originally appeared at


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Skye Kliewer
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 16:42:40

    Nice post. I learn one thing more difficult on different blogs everyday. It’s going to at all times be stimulating to read content material from different writers and observe slightly one thing from their store. I?d favor to make use of some with the content on my blog whether or not you don?t mind. Natually I?ll provide you with a hyperlink in your net blog. Thanks for sharing.


  2. pistol shrimp
    Oct 27, 2011 @ 06:33:02

    hmm, interesting book. Maybe i’ll get one of this for my nephew who’s 4 yrs old. I’m sure he’ll like it. He’s always been fascinated by marine animals.



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