National Geographic News
A photo of Bindi Irwin.

Bindi Irwin has been named a youth ambassador for SeaWorld and will host "webisodes" on the company's website.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MATT ROBERTS, GETTY

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published March 7, 2014

Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin's teenage daughter Bindi is the latest celebrity to be swept up in the ongoing controversy around SeaWorld, which was sparked by the recent documentary film Blackfish.

(See "How Far Will the Blackfish Effect Go?" and "SeaWorld vs. the Whale That Killed its Trainer.")

The 15-year-old Bindi, who has hosted wildlife TV shows in the U.S. and Australia, has come under fire for partnering with SeaWorld on a project meant to encourage children to learn about animals, called Generation Nature.

SeaWorld, which operates parks in Orlando, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; and San Diego, California, has become a target for animal advocates since the 2013 film Blackfish raised questions about the park's treatment of animals. The film accused the park of breaking up orca families in the wild during collections of animals, teaching the cetaceans to do "unnatural" tricks, and failing to react enough to warning signs shown by Tilikum, the whale that killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

Musical acts like the Beach Boys, Martina McBride, Willie Nelson, and REO Speedwagon have recently canceled SeaWorld appearances.

Bindi appeared regularly on TV shows hosted by her famous father, Steve Irwin, who died in 2006 from a stingray barb.

On Thursday, she appeared with her younger brother Robert and mother Terri on Good Morning America to promote Generation Nature.

"I'm so excited to be carrying on in Dad's footsteps and making sure that everything he worked so hard for continues for the generations to come," Bindi said on the program.

She added that she was "thrilled to be partnered up with SeaWorld ... and just encouraging kids to change the world."

Bindi has been named a "youth ambassador" for SeaWorld and will host a series of "webisodes" aimed at children on the company's website.

Strong Reactions

Reactions to the announcement on Twitter were swift and harsh:




On a Facebook fan page for Bindi, Emma-Jayne Gardiner wrote, "Bindi you have just signed away any credibility you may have had now and in the future. Shame on you."

But others on social media have defended Bindi.

"To the people saying her father would be ashamed, give the girl a break, don't forget shes only 15 and thats a pretty heavy thing to say," wrote Ben Blackwell from Australia on Bindi's Facebook fan page. "The only thing he'd be dissapointed [sic] in is the way people are treating his daughter."

And there have been some supportive tweets amid the blizzard of criticism:


A petition launched on Change.org this week asks Bindi to reconsider her affiliation with SeaWorld. As of this writing it has more than 1,600 signatures.

In a statement, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) criticized the Irwin family for a history of "exploiting animals."

"Plastering her face on SeaWorld's website won't cover up the fact that orcas, dolphins, and other animals are suffering in SeaWorld's tiny tanks after being ripped from their families," PETA said. "Bindi's talk-show appearances are just a flimsy last-ditch effort by an abusement park hoping to make a buck."

SeaWorld's Response

SeaWorld has not responded to a request for comment as of this writing. In the past, the company has criticized Blackfish as unfair and inaccurate.

SeaWorld spokesperson Dave Koontz told National Geographic in December that the film is "inaccurate, misleading, and paints a distorted picture of SeaWorld and our animal care program."

SeaWorld has defended its animal captivity practices in a series of full-page ads in major newspapers called "Open Letter from SeaWorld's Animal Advocates." The company also says it has spent $70 million improving its killer whale habitats over the past three years.

This latest controversy comes on the same day that California State Assembly member Richard Bloom (D, Santa Monica) is introducing the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, which would make it illegal to "hold in captivity, or use, a wild-caught or captive-bred orca for performance or entertainment purposes." The bill would also ban artificial insemination of captive killer whales in California and bar import of orcas or orca semen.

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

45 comments
Megan Higgins
Megan Higgins

It is clear that some animals do not belong in water parks even if the park thinks they are helping, the fact that the whale killed a trainer clearly shows that animals was distressed in that environment. If a dog kills a person it's put down yet they have insisted on continuing to use the whale for breeding. You only need to compare the lifestyle of a captive animal to a wild one to see how little they have to cope with domestication, horses have advocates for a more natural lifestyle who are capable of being rational, just because we're dealing with a wile animal doesn't mean we stop being logical. In the wild a whale have free rein anywhere it wishes to go, how can you justify placing them in comparably tiny pools and watch them show all the signs of stress? Bindi is trying to help young people access animals, perhaps when they see the animals in seaworld they will understand a bit more about the animals natural needs and turn to wildlife instead of captive animals to enjoy. If people stop supporting seaworld they will have nothing to do but give up but they are a company at the end of the day who are there to make money and that's what they're trying to do after all.

Eric Mills
Eric Mills

HOW YOU CAN HELP GET AB 2140 (BLOOM) PASSED:  This legislation is likely to be assigned to the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee for a hearing sometime in late March.


Chair of that committee is Assemblymember Anthony Rendon.  Other members are Frank Bigelow, Travis Allen, Raul Bocanegra, Brian Dahle, Paul Fong, Jim Frazier, Beth Gaines, Mike Gatto, Jimmy Gomez, Lorena Gonzalez, Adam Gray, Jim Patterson, Freddie Rodriguez and Mariko Yamada.


SUPPORT LETTERS ARE NEEDED NOW.  ALL LEGISLATORS MAY BE WRITTEN C/O THE STATE CAPITOL, SACRAMENTO, CA  95814.  And send Assemblymember Richard Bloom a thank-you note, too.  Here's hoping that other states will soon follow suit, esp. Florida and Texas.  There should be NO cetaceans held in captivity, and certainly not for mere "entertainment" reasons.


This battle is likely to focus on tourist dollars and job loss.  Hopefully those vested interests will not be allowed to trump the REAL issues:  animal welfare, compassion, ethics and morality.


x

Eric Mills, coordinator

ACTION FOR ANIMALS

Oakland


P.S. - Would be nice if a filmmaker would make a documentary about the abuses in the rodeo arena, to do for those animals what "BLACKFISH" is doing for captive orcas.....



Stanley Kerns
Stanley Kerns

In the "real world"  Orca's are eaten alive by anything with teeth big enough to do the job--and parasites love them as well--when not being eaten they are a top predator and eat what they can--loving cute little sea otters and baby seals--Bindi has a life long commitment to animal betterment and deserves to (if needed, which I doubt) being judged by her equals--not a bunch of feather brained Eco nuts.

Stan

John Smith
John Smith

Come on people the world needs to do something about these radical animal rights dirtbags like PETA,ALF and HSUS ad nauseum.Right down there with gangbangers and pedophiles nothing lower then a rotten stinking lowlife urban radical animal rights creep.

John Smith
John Smith

Who the hell cares what PETA thinks?The world is sick and tired of radical animal rights wackjobs.

Mel Cyan
Mel Cyan

 If I had to choose between Bindi Irwin and PETA to be responsible for the welfare of all the animals on Earth I would choose Bindi Irwin. Bindi understands that the greatest threat to animals on Earth is human overpopulation. PETA will now do everything they can to destroy the reputation of Bindi Irwin and they will continue to remain silent about the threat posed by human overpopulation  to all species on Earth.  

Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

I always felt very uncomfortable with Steve Irwin's approach to animals. Pulling snakes by their tails and hanging them upside-down to see their fangs when they became angry, then ogling the camera and saying how mean the snake was, really wasn't the correct approach to a creature that was simply trying to get away and hide. There were many other examples with many other animals.

Steve Irwin claimed that his approach was professional and that he was 'educating' youngsters about such animals. In fact, it was apparent to me that he didn't respect Nature and he was actually telling youngsters is was fine to treat wildlife the same way.

All I can say is that neither the NGS nor David Attenborough feel the need to stoop to that sort of treatment to 'educate' youngsters. They are too professional and too concerned for wildlife. I hope Bindi doesn't take such a disrespectful approach to wildlife and Nature as her father.     

Carl Mikkelson
Carl Mikkelson

Blackfish is a big lie perpetrated by a small group of disgruntled former trainers and marine scientists with an axe to grind against Sea World.  It is heavily edited and does not convey the truth of what goes on at Sea World or the quality of care their animals get.  It lies about Tilikum and Dawn Brancheau and people fall for it because it's done skillfully.  It plays on the raw emotion of the uninformed.  I applaud Bindi Irwin for partnering with an organization that is the single largest Animal Rescue organization in the world and does more than anybody to promote conservation education worldwide.  There are thousands of marine scientists, biologists, keepers and trainers in the world.  They found fewer than a dozen to put in the film and several of them are already out there saying the movie lied and misrepresented their words by doing a hack job edit on the interviews and limiting the subjects they could speak about at all.  Blackfish is not education.  That takes a bit more time and study.

Eldon Kimball
Eldon Kimball

This is a tough choice for responsible adults, much less a mid-teen!  Her heart is clearly in the right place and she should not be condemned for doing what she believes is the best choice whether you agree with her decision or not.  

Feel free to explain why you feel either way about it but leave it to her and her family to make a final call; then complement her on her efforts to benefit the animal world!

Come on folks - this is a loving, caring person so lets follow her example.

Dwayne LaGrou
Dwayne LaGrou

I think it a real shame that people are giving this young lady such a hard time with this new program for kids that Seaworld is sponsoring. I think that she is just trying to show kids a way for them to care for animals. SHAME On the people bad mouthing her. After all SHE's JUST A KID!!!

You go ahead and do what you think is right Bindi. Remember, There are more people supporting you than you think!

Karen Aguayo
Karen Aguayo

@Stanley Kerns Really? What animal eat Orca alive when they are the top predator in the ocean? You are siding with $eaWorld who claims that they educate people on Orca, yet you have this incredibly false information. Orcas kill Great White Sharks, eat only the liver & leave the rest for other fish & birds to feed on. I think it works great for the ocean life.  FREE ORCA & OTHER DOLPHIN!!! DOWN WITH $EAWORLD!!!

Danielle Flynn
Danielle Flynn

@Stanley Kerns Just because an animal has predators in the wild does NOT give humans the right to capture and exploit them. Animals value their own lives and freedom and it is unacceptable for us to infringe upon that.  There is such thing as a misguided animal lover.  Someone's heart may be in the right place but their actions can still be morally wrong.

Just because she may know more about zookeeping than us "feather brained Eco nuts" doesn't mean she's doing the right thing.  It doesn't take a professional "equal" to judge whether someone's doing something that's morally harmful to another living creature.  The kid may "love" animals but zoos and aquariums are animal prisons, nothing more.  A prison with great food and great scenery is still a prison.  It is not our "right"as humans to study animals just to quench our curiosity.  Animals are not our toys, and they deserve to be free.

Katy S
Katy S

@Stanley Kerns  What exactly has "the teeth big enough" to kill an Orca?They have been known to kill Great White Sharks and the like, I don't think they fear much. Also the "loving cute little sea otters and baby seals" is a false logical argument that purely appeals to emotion. Otters are raping a'ssholes and seals kill penguins. Circle of life. 

Also name calling is never something you want to bring into a valid argument but hey its the internet right? 

Karen Aguayo
Karen Aguayo

@John Smith What is wrong with being active to save a species? You are either an activist or an IN-activist. There is nothing wrong with being an activist. That's old school talk. Welcome to the NEW WORLD!!!

Pam Hryskiw
Pam Hryskiw

@John Smith

Seriously a-hat?  Pedophiles and people who have no vested interest in keeping families of any species together are comparable as far as you're concerned?  I can only hope if anyone is stoopitt enough to allow you to attempt to breed with them none of your boys can swim.  :P


Karen Aguayo
Karen Aguayo

@John Smith Um, I do... along with more than 2/3 of America. There are more & more people today that care about animals who can't speak for themselves & have decided to do it for them. It's called EMPATHY. All of us have it, some choose to ignore it. Like you. Thank God for organizations like PETA. What the world is sick of is people who think animals are beneath them! And in my opinion, if you are talking such trash about the organizations that devote their lives to caring for these creatures, then you are against the care of these creatures. And that make YOU a rotten, stinking lowlife. Careful, don't throw bricks when you live in a glass house.  

Pam Hryskiw
Pam Hryskiw

@John Smith

People like you used to say "who cares what Rosa Parks thinks and who cares what Hitler thinks and who cares what the Round-Earth Society thinks"... one doesn't need to be a whack-job (is that your professional assessment Johnny?) to be horrified at the rape and methodic starvation and hideous level of containment humans and non-humans suffer at the hands of money-grubbing humans.  Tilium has been directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of three humans; not once in the recorded history of humanity has a free orca caused the death of a human.  Other than you holding the crown, the only "whack-jobs" in this equation are $eaWorld and the surviving/involved Irwins. 


Louis Gonzales
Louis Gonzales

@Andrew Booth At no time, as a child, did I ever feel the need to act like Steve Irwin. He was a television educator, so his way of interacting with animals was obviously going to be different from the way I interacted with animals.


Overall, Steve may have added some stress to animals, but he presented a message of conservation in each and every episode of his show. Plus, he got a generation of kids to be excited about animal conservation. That's something that's incredibly difficult to do.


Also, while he did add some additional stress to the lives of several animals, he did save many animals that were in horribly dangerous situations. He saved injured crocodiles and he moved crocodiles that moved to close into rancher territory. He caught snakes in order to create anti-venom and he saved a group of snakes that would have been beheaded near a tribal village. He developed animal sanctuaries and possibly one of the best zoos in the entire world (his Australia Zoo has the largest wildlife veterinary center in Australia).

Russ Nash
Russ Nash

@Carl Mikkelson It still doesn't seem much of a life for the animals involved though. Senses designed for a vast environment cooped up like the man in the iron mask. It's a bit hard to defend.

D Flagg
D Flagg

@Dwayne LaGrou  pardon me Dwayne, but the way to care for animals is to leave them in their own environments and advocate for their protection. And yes she is just a kid, but that does not mean we are to disregard what is the right thing to do. She is a misguided and possibly exploited teenage girl --- I feel sorry for her. 

John Smith
John Smith

@Pam Hryskiw @John Smith oh S T F U a-hat.Typical urban libtard idiot.Lose the debate and start name calling.Sure would like to see someone smash your face in.

Bridget Donahue
Bridget Donahue

@Pam Hryskiw @John Smith  Oh please. PeTA has been around for thirty years, and nobody gives a damn what they think aside from like-minded animal rights nuts. There are many ways to handle a situation that you don't like, and PeTA inevitably chooses the wrong one. Bindi is still a kid for goodness sake, but instead of taking the opportunity to educate, they go straight to the offensive. 


I'll make my own position clear. I'm all for animal welfare. I don't think that the big wigs at Sea World have their heart in the right place, and I'm disappointed in the Irwins for their choice. But, I think there may be a silver lining.

Karen Aguayo
Karen Aguayo

@John Smith @Andrew BoothI am so sick of hearing things like, "extremist", "activist" "right-wing" "liberal". ALL IT IS IS CARING!!! Caring about the animals that some people do NOT care about!!! And, John Smith, if you think you are so righteous, then why are you posting as "John Smith"? Because you are probably one of $eaWorlds ex-employee's that they are paying to defend them. Because they cannot get up & say the things an ex-employee would say, THAT would be lying. So they let you guys do it. And trust me, if they are questioned about it, they will say they had nothing to do with what their ex-employee's said. If $eaWorld has nothing to hide, then they should not be worried. They should get up & speak for themselves. I have not seen NEARLY enough of that. And they even lie & say Blackfish is full of lies when, maybe then stretch the truth a little, but like $eaWorld doesn't??? PLEASE. Give it up already. You're exposed.

Pam Hryskiw
Pam Hryskiw

@John Smith @Andrew Booth

Oh grow up, get out of your parent's basement, buy some Clearasil, and stop eating pizza pockets as you troll a page dedicated to the study and preservation of life, Johnny.

John Smith
John Smith

D Flag  S T F U You ever been outside a city park nutjob? Take your PETA spewing BS somewhere else creep.

George Lang
George Lang

@D Flagg @Dwayne LaGrou It amazes me that we have so many "experts" guiding us in our treatment and protection of animals. Are these people self-educated from their many years in the field studying or living alongside the wildlife? Of course not. Or are they formally educated in zoology? Ha!  Most get caught up in any cause receiving publicity and public charitable contributions.

Eldon Kimball
Eldon Kimball

@D Flagg @Dwayne LaGrou  That is a simplistic view.  She believes if people get closer to - and care for animals, they will be likely to work towards protecting them and the environment.  I understand your feelings and partially agree with you but it just isn't that simple.

You are not the supreme arbitrator of right and wrong and just because others see things from a different perspective does not make them wrong.

Pam Hryskiw
Pam Hryskiw

@George Lang @D Flagg@Dwayne LaGrou

The people who care about the lives of captive animals may not be experts, but they take the expert advice of zoologists and marine biologists who do not have a vested financial interest in keeping these animals locked up.  The difference is that $eaWorld doesn't have an expert not on their payroll who suggests Tilikum's life is better since he was stolen from his family. 


Karen Aguayo
Karen Aguayo

@Eldon Kimball @D Flagg@Dwayne LaGrouThat's a great thing to believe, but unfortunately all it does is create kids who want to work at $eaWorld with the Orcas. And that is exactly why $eaWorld is doing it. That is why they focus in on families with children. We need to teach the young minds of today that animals belong in their natural environments, NEVER in captivity unless they are being rehabilitated to go BACK to their home.    I don't blame Bindi, she is only doing what she thinks is best, she IS a child & has no idea what she is contributing to.

Pam Hryskiw
Pam Hryskiw

@Dwayne LaGrou

Let's please bear in mind this is a minor who is going to be making a ton of money supporting the captive cetacean industry (and so will her mother make a ton of money)--not to mention to notoriety.  She's a shill and her mother is her agent.


John Smith
John Smith

@D Flagg Are you really that stupid or do you work at it moron? Fu@$ urban PETA barfing wackjob

D Flagg
D Flagg

@Eldon Kimball  There is nothing so simple as those who make money off of the suffering of animals kept for human entertainment. If you cannot see the moral imperative of eliminating these circuses, then you must really be turning a blind eye to what is going on here. This is a huge corporation that includes a variety of theme parks, circuses and oceanariums. They exist to make money under the guise of benevolent conservation and research.

D Flagg
D Flagg

@Dwayne LaGrou  Thanks for a thoughtful reply Dwayne. I must however disagree with her choice to affiliate with SeaWorld. This shows a very apparent need to commercialize herself. I do agree that we should step in to rescue these creatures, but that does not mean taking them to live in the circus. As a minor, she is under the purview of the adult that has custodial rights and so this objection to her actions is not so much a condemnation of her because she is not an adult capable of making her own decisions. The fact is that her parent has possibly encouraged this alliance, which I find simply misguided, despicable and possibly motivated by money and notoriety. I find no value in SeaWorld or any other circus, so we are only left to conclude that she is in alignment with their conduct and philosophy. 


Dwayne LaGrou
Dwayne LaGrou

I understand what you are saying, But I still think that it's totally wrong to heap that kind of negativity on a minor that is just simply trying her best to follow in her fathers footsteps. Sure, The best way to help animals is to keep them in the wild where they belong, However, There are times when we have to have them with us such as a stranding or when they are found injured and need us to help them. Most of Steve Irwin's animals were in that category, And that is how Bindi grew up, Helping her dad. So I still think it's terrible to put her down in this "Public"way.

David Seabaugh
David Seabaugh

@Eldon Kimball that is a simplistic view of morality. Following your reasoning, nothing can ever be wrong because someone may see it "from a different perspective". Skipped those logic classes in college I presume.

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