» January 2nd, 2014

Well folks, I suppose it was bound to happen. I wrote a dozen pieces for Forbes.com and enjoyed it very much. But the 13th–an article critical of SeaWorld (a 2.5 billion dollar company partially owned by the Blackstone Group) and praiseworthy of ‘Blackfish” (made on a small budget)–rattled some corporate cages. 

After I posted, editorial management demanded changes that I could not, in good conscience, make. So the article got pulled (after 77,000 hits in one day) and I left my position. Honestly, the experience, brief as it was, was a good one. Until today, when it wasn’t. My immediate editor was terrific. 

But, in the end, McWilliams and Forbes.com: mismatch. 

So, for the record, here’s the offending piece: 


Obedient killer whales doing heroic leaps and splashing patrons with cold tank water are a cash cow for SeaWorld, the 50-year old entertainment company. The spectacle is such a crowd-pleaser that there seems little reason to imagine that these majestic mammals—who appear to bask in the glow of their own performance—are so distressed that they’d attack humans.

All that changed in 2010, when a 12,000-pound killer whale named Tilikum dragged his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, into the stunt pool by her hair and drowned her in front of an Orlando audience. SeaWorld officials suggested that Brancheau’s ponytail was to blame for her death.

But the 2013 documentary “Blackfish“—my vote for the best documentary of the year—convincingly argues otherwise. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and aired a dozen times by CNN over the past year, “Blackfish” makes the case that Tilikum attacked Brancheau because of mounting frustration induced by captivity. SeaWorld calls the film–which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival– “shamefully dishonest.”

But David Kirby, the author of “Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity,” believes that “Blackfish’s” interpretation of Brancheau’s death is right on the mark.

In a recent interview, he explained that killer whales, which can cover 100 miles a day in open waters, don’t bother humans in the wild. Indeed, there’s only one documented case of an orca biting a surfer (in 1972), and even that incident was more likely an accident than an attack (the surfer was wearing a wetsuit and may have resembled a seal).

But captivity is a different story. Killer whales are kept in tight quarters, fed a diet of thawed fish, and routinely separated from their calves. These circumstances, according to Kirby, “create stress in these animals,” often to the extent that they lash out.

There have been 114 cases between 1960 and 2012 of orcas attempting to harm their handlers. Just two months before Brancheau’s death, a killer whale owned by SeaWorld and on loan to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands killed his trainer, Alexis Martinez. Tilikum himself was previously implicated in two other human deaths, one in 1991 (a trainer) and the other in 1999 (a swimmer who snuck into the tank).

“Blackfish,” for all its gravitas, has had surprising resonance with an unlikely cohort of viewers. Cowperthwaite said, “I saw firsthand how the film resonated with people, especially younger people. I never imagined we’d get such a young demo.” (Indeed, I was pushed to watch the film by my 11-year old son, who vowed to write SeaWorld a “carefully worded letter.”)

How such a film–one that’s devoid of sensationalism and presented in the soberest of tones– made it onto the cultural radar of his demographic remains a mystery. But with apolitical preteens now talking about boycotts, SeaWorld is no doubt working hard to solve it.

Perhaps to that end, SeaWorld, in what Kirby calls “a desperate move,” recently took out a full-page advertisement in seven major newspapers condemning “inaccurate reports” while reiterating its purported advocacy for killer whales and their humane treatment. Whether or not these ads will save SeaWorld’s sinking stock price, which has dropped as much as 25 percent in the wake of “Blackfish,” remains to be seen.

What’s more assured is that, in an era of increasing corporate dominance, a low-budget investigative work can still send shock waves through an established corporation with a once pristine reputation. “SeaWorld used to be the darling of the media,” said Kirby.

“Blackfish” seems to have taken its place.


127 Responses to F-O-R-B-E-S

  1. Doug T says:

    Kudos for standing up for what is right. Just curious; what were the changes they wanted you to make?

  2. John T. Maher says:

    Muy respetar for taking it to the man! Biopolitical Capitalism is all about coercion and conformity and marginalization. Others will be inspired and you will become catnip for places which thrive on a frisson of verite. I forsee Advance/Conde Nast beckoning but probably not Newscorp/Fox. . .

  3. Sarah says:

    Congratulations on following your conscience instead of the money. Not easy to do. You’ve gained even more of my respect. :)

  4. Bea Elliott says:

    I applaud you for doing what’s right. Your well written piece about Blackfish would really be wasted at Forbes anyway. A leopard doesn’t change spots.

    A more suitable and worthy forum for your articles and advocacy will come your way in no time! ;)

  5. Elaine Brown says:

    I have admired FORBES for actually publishing articles that are not fully acceptable to the Mainstream. However, to allow a corporation who is obviously not operating in a moral pro-animal manner to force an author to “clean up” an article to suit the corporation is unethical and dishonest.

    Sorry for your predicament, James, but I like you even more for standing for what you believe.

  6. Vickie says:

    Seriously, good on you for taking a stand and SHAME on Forbes and Seaworld! The fact that they are so scared they feel the need to censor your article proves how culpable they are in committing these atrocities against such noble creatures.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  7. Elaine Brown says:

    Coincidentally, I wrote the above comment, closed the page, and guess what was in my mail box. See below -

  8. Edana says:

    Fabulous piece… Seems right on the mark to me. Forbes’ readers will miss you, I’m sure.

  9. Stacy says:

    I have so much respect for you!

  10. Karen Harris says:

    Wonderful piece. I echo other sentiments in saying that you are adding important insights into so many key issues – so thank you.
    Just the other day I read (can’t remember where, sorry) that Tilikum is performing at Sea World again, and that his life has become incredibly restrictive there – no toys or enrichment of any kind and kept in isolation from other orcas. Does anyone have more information about his status at present?

    • Theresa Pugh says:

      Karen, last I have heard Seaworld had posted a video on YouTube showing Tili “playing” with a younger Orca. There was no playing at all. He just moves slowly around. These beauties can swim from 100~400 miles a day in a straight line. Tili and the other captive Cetaceans must swim in a circle because of the concrete prisons they live in. Tili is aproximately 22 Feet long. His pool is about 24 feet deep. After the unfortunate death of Ms. Brancheau, OSHA stepped in and forbade “wet work”. An injunction Seaworld is trying to overturn. Read “Death At Seaworld” and Google “Ric O’Barry”. Seaworld lies. See Blackfish Brigade on FaceBook, join our movement. You will be shocked and spurred on to help these gentle giants! Thanx!

  11. VaNessa Dawn says:

    Thank you for standing up for what you believe in! I pray that Tilikum and all other animals imprisoned at Sea World will soon be released back into the wild, WHERE they belong. Again, thank you.

  12. Marcie says:

    Thank you so much for standing up for the truth! Blackfish has shed a lot of light on the issues of cetacean captivity, and shame on Forbes management for seemingly trying to support Seaworld in this battle. Cetacean captivity WILL end – the clock is ticking away!

  13. James, YES to what everyone has said, already. Wow. On behalf of some of the cast of the film, thank you for standing up to the corporate machine. I personally shared your piece widely, previously, and will continue to do so. Maybe it can get another 77K at your blog. It is simply a great & precise article. Much respect!

  14. Gina Christopher says:

    Thank you so much for standing up for what you believe in and for what is right. I enjoyed the article and they wanted you to make changes because the truth hurts and they are running scared. They are trying to keep up the façade and are failing miserably because of all the truths being revealed…but the ball is rolling quickly downhill for them!

  15. JL says:

    Thank you for writing the truth – and standing behind it!

  16. Theresa Pugh says:

    Thank you so much. We are Blackfish Brigade! Empty the tanks!! Free Tili and all the beauties that belong in the ocean! Thank you again!!

  17. Blackfish Brigade says:

    James, We would like to thank you for your willingness to stand up for your beliefs and be a voice for Blackfish. You have earned our respect.

  18. Deborah says:

    Thank you for your courage. Much admired!!!

  19. Thank you for standing up to Forbes and doing what is right. It’s tragic that standard operating procedure in our cuture is that corporate and shareholder financial interests trump the truth. We have to stand up to this disturbing trend before it’s too late. Thanks to people like you, we have a chance to change the status quo. Excellent article and I’m sharing everywhere with everyone.

  20. Lisa says:

    You “HAVE TO LIVE AMONG THEM, BUT YOU DONT HAVE TO BE LIKE THEM.” NEVER sell your soul. This journalist has balls..cant say that for a lot of men…sigh…

  21. Lauren says:

    Mr. McWilliams: #Blackfish opened my eyes…wide…to the cruelty of capture, isolation and exploitation of these magnificent creatures. Your article is on point and I want you to know that you have this reader’s… and now determined animal rights activist…respect and admiration. Thank you.

  22. Sarah says:

    Fantastic article. Really written and do you know what, the truth!! What an amazing stand you have taken, would be amazing if more people could educate themselves and make a stand to start making a change. Empty the tanks!! Google The Cove and Blackfish.

  23. nick ashby says:

    Pity. It was rather amazing that Forbes allowed for your views to go out on its platform. Just out of interest, could you let us know what the changes they wanted were?

  24. Alyson says:

    Wow, total respect for your actions. Thank you !!
    Big loss for Forbes, bad move on their behalf

  25. I want to thank-you for speaking up and out. After 50 years of abusing whales SeaWorld is being exposed for what they are, greedy monsters who really care nothing about animals. Their rescue programs and Hubb’s science group all cater to the captive industry.
    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men remain silent and do nothing”!
    Thanks for speaking up for the orcas!

  26. YOU. ARE. AMAZING! Thank you for taking a stand against censorship, and for being true to your own heart. In today’s world, heroes are hard to come by. You, sir, are among them. THANK YOU! <3


  27. Lucie says:

    Good for you writing the truth !!! Forbes you lose !

  28. Kimberly Ventre says:

    Hats off to you for writing the truth. Corporations like Forbes, Blackstone, and SeaWorld are so used to “controlling the narrative” they don’t know what to do when facts and science don’t support their story.

    It would be great to know what they wanted you to change. I suspect they are unhappy to read that preteen generation has taken notice of Blackfish.

  29. PhoenixLake says:

    Being honest and being right is priceless. Thank You
    here are some choice quotes from President Abraham Lincoln regarding Slavery at;
    One good quote that is important to this conversation….”If we cannot give freedom to every creature, let us do nothing that will impose slavery upon any other creature.” -Lincoln

  30. Johnna says:

    Your article was excellent and your former employer should be
    ashamed of themselves. Thank you
    for standing up for work and for the truth
    about SeaWorld.

  31. Clare MacDonald says:

    Respect doesn’t quite describe what I have for you. Thank you for standing behind the truth that so many refuse to hear. I hope that you are recognized, beyond the comments on this site, for outstanding integrity in journalism.

  32. Lissette Carlo says:

    Thank you, I’m glad there are still people who can’t be bought or forced to do something because of corporate pressure.

  33. Tracy says:

    Thank you for this article, for taking a stand, and for refusing to compromise your standards. You acted in a truly admirable way, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for you. I’m so sorry that you now have to deal with looking for a new position, however my hope for you is that you will find one with a company that will appreciate the fact that their writers are willing to use their voice and are unwilling to compromise in order to satisfy the need by a corporation to shut up, and shut down a truth that the world so desperately needs to know. Whether you believe what you did was a big thing or not (I hope you do) please know that today you stood up for those who do not have a voice, and if they did I’m sure they would be thanking you. I’m sure you made your son proud.

  34. Martin Field says:

    Corporate corruption and bully tactics at their finest. You, sir, stand head and shoulders above these low-lifes and have made a couragous and professionally correct decision. I support and respect your high standards and integrity.

  35. Colleen Kinerk says:

    You are a true writer, one that won’t change his word for a job. That takes integrity and strength. I very much about both your writing and your stance. Thank you for both.

  36. Colleen Kinerk says:

    I wrote about where I meant to write admire

  37. You are my new hero, James! It takes courage to declare the truth in spite of the consequences–which, I have faith, will open many more doors to you than the closed-minded cowards of Forbes (aka “Sea World). Thank you for not backing down!

  38. Laura says:

    How sad! Hard to believe they would pull that excellent article for telling the truth. The SeaWorld float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena CA on New Years day was enjoyed by the ignorant and protested by only a few “PETA” activists who were treated somewhat as spoilsports by the tv report I saw. Wow, it’s distressing to see the level of ignorance still rampant among the general population. Keep chipping away, it’s all we have, with Forbes or without.

  39. Gina Palencar says:

    Thank you for your writing and for your integrity. You have my appreciation and my respect, Mr. McWilliams. Also, thank you for not being silenced, and for letting readers know how shameless FORBES is.

  40. Amy says:

    Bravo to you for taking a stand!!!

  41. Helen T says:

    My heads off to you for doing what’s right. Shame on Forbes!

  42. Helen T says:

    And I’ll boycott Forbes from now on. I stand with the truth and whoever is telling it.

  43. Nick P says:

    Thea this to NY Times.

  44. Cathy says:

    What were the changes? It seems like everything you said was attributed and contextualized properly, and for what you were saying it seems very even handed. What was the problem?

  45. Elizabeth says:

    I just wanted to say thank you. What you did and stood up for is something many people wouldn’t do. You are a inspiration!

  46. Sam Y says:

    Total respect for standing up for your beliefs. Shows we got ‘em scared. We got to get that hell hole shut down. One magazine article at a time if necessary.

  47. Les Roberts says:

    “Blackfish” broke no new ground form, as I’ve been aware for DECADES at the imprisonment and substandard treatment of orcas for the entertainment and amusement of human beings. It is a sober, thoughtful, and very important film, and I find it very sad that James and FORBES parted company because,in our now somewhat shaky society, it is STILL ethically unconscionable for a publication to order a columnist to say what they WANT him/her to say. CHEERS to James for sticking to his guns!

  48. Melissa Tedrowe says:

    If I may ask, what did they want you to change? This piece seems no more inflammatory or critical of corporations than some of the other Forbes pieces you’ve published.

    Just curious.

  49. Good for you, and Thank You James for standing your ground and not caving to corporate political pressure.

    Something tells us you’ll do just fine without Forbes and will gain an even larger following of new friends.

    Thanks again!

  50. Daniela Harth says:

    I am deeply impressed that you stood up against this kind of censorship. As of today, Forbes also lost a reader.

    Thank you for being a voice.

  51. Joan Bollaert says:

    Bravo! My words and thoughts to Forbes and Sea World echo those of Jack Nicholson in the film “A Few Good Men”…. to both those corporate America giants, “You can’t handle the truth!!”.

    You’re a stand up guy.

  52. Charlie Talbert says:

    “Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.” – Mignon McLaughlin, Journalist 1913 – 1983

    That may be largely true, but not entirely so. Thanks, James, for troubling the status quo of animal oppression. An honor to know you.

  53. Susanna D says:

    THIS was truly one of the best pieces I’ve read about Blackfish & the corporate web that’s controlled the conversation for 50 years! Thank you for your honesty and true journalistic spirit! You’ve given your children the greatest lesson in life by standing your ground and staying true and loyal to your core. Integrity is a lost art! You didn’t lose Forbes, they lost you! Look very much forward to your next article! Much respect and admiration!

  54. Kevin Flynn says:

    You did what’s right, including revealing that Forbes wanted those changes.

  55. Nat says:

    Very well written article. I will definitely be boycotting Forbes for now on.

  56. Tory Braden says:

    Corporate money talks and fires.

    Well now that you have gotten hooked on injustice (double entendre meant), and the can of worms of animal exploitation, please be sure to see “An Apology to Elephants.” The AZA is just as nasty in zoos as they are in aquariums.

    I had posted on my Fb page of 14K , Save All Elephants, to comment, wrongly thinking that the editors would see there is interest in corporate wrong doing. I hope since we are in part responsible for the loss of your job that you find a new one(s) which pays even better.

  57. Karen Dawn says:

    Though I agree with the choice not to change a piece one believes in, it seems I may be the only reader here who is disappointed that James chose to entirely quit writing for Forbes on behalf of the billions of animals suffering in the food industry, over the magazines’ choice to pull his Seaworld piece. I actually don’t think James’ integrity matters more than the information he was getting out to mainstream readers, and the good that was doing. That’s just my view, and obviously not one widely shared on this page, but I thought I would include it here as another way of looking at things.

    • mynamefluffy says:

      Karen, I did think about this aspect too. On the other hand, if the changes they wanted James to make were so substantive that it was no longer James’ voice, it might not have had the desired effect anyway, having been so badly altered from the original (if that is the case). One silver lining though is that many people did see his articles while he was there, and they may be interested enough to come here or elsewhere (one of our blogs, too, perhaps) and get more involved in the conversation. I am hoping for some ripple effect to come out of his brief stay there. Maybe it’s the holidays having just gone by, but I am uncharacteristically optimistic and hopeful (but I doubt it will last). ~Linda

      • Karen Dawn says:

        Linda, you have misunderstood my post — perhaps I wasn’t clear. I totally agree with James’ choice not to allow changes to his post if the end result would have been the post misrepresenting his position. I commend him for standing by what he wrote even if it meant that Forbes was going to choose to pull the piece. My disappointment is with his choice to resign as a Forbes blogger over the issue. I don’t think that was in the best interest of the animals and (as much as I like James) their interest of greater concern for me. For them its a matter of life and death; I am pretty sure that his Forbes blog saved lives.

        • Karen Dawn says:

          Linda, I am assuming you are aware that James has written numerous pieces for Forbes on matters that effect billions of animals? This was just one piece that the magazine pulled.

          • mynamefluffy says:

            Hi Karen,
            I think I know what you are getting at. If James had stayed and continued to write about farmed animal issues, even if the Blackfish piece got removed, it might get the word out about the plight of food animals to many people. I get that, and sometimes sacrifices have to be made on a smaller scale for the bigger goal. I think that is what your point was. I do have to wonder though, if Forbes had gotten James to cave by letting the piece be removed but continue to write for them, at what point do they then begin to exert influence over his food writing pieces? I am not a professional writer and do not know all the ins and outs, but I have been in professional situations where some people try and basically bully others or get them to compromise their integrity. If Forbes had somehow gotten James to compromise his writing ideals (which clearly did not happen since he left instead), I am not sure it would just be James who would have suffered the consequences. His editors might have begun a process of altering his work so that it was ultimately not his in spirit – if that happened, much of the good that might come from the expression of his particular point of view could have gone by the wayside as well. I also think that many of the Forbes readers will or have migrated here and to similar places. And who knows what opportunities will await that could reach an even bigger audience. But I do understand you wanting to present the other side, as it were. ~Linda

  58. Bob says:

    Not at all convincing. Your whole argument is predicated on the idea that it’s abnormal for killer whales to try and kill someone. Think how ridiculous that is.

    • mynamefluffy says:

      Despite the fact that orcas (which is what they should be called by the way) are apex predators, they have no to few documented incidents of attacking humans while free in their natural environment, and no fatal incident has ever been recorded in the wild against a human. It is only when humans stalk, hunt, capture, separate from their families, confine, abuse, starve, and humiliate them for most of their natural lives (which are much longer in the wild than what Sea World would like everyone to believe) that they begin to decompensate from the extreme stress and horror of their lives. It is only then that they act out towards their captors. Orcas are highly intelligent, sensitive, and social. They are not random killers of everything in their path. Sea World and other such institutions have taken everything they know to be natural to them and forced them to live in concentration camps. These trainer deaths are on Sea World, NOT the animals they enslave. ~Linda

  59. Roland Alden says:

    Long ago Forbes, the bible of soft-porn capitalism, degenerated into a variant of the Robb Report. Their readers are not worthy of serious journalists.

    • Mountain says:

      No need to “other” the readers of Forbes. They’re sentient beings, too, and worthy of moral consideration.

  60. mynamefluffy says:

    As someone who has been writing/blogging/tweeting for a while on the marine mammal abuse, slaughter and captivity regarding Sea World and Taiji (and they are connected), I am not at all surprised at this parting of the ways. Sea World has a powerful corporate footprint, and they are scared. The exposure that has come about as a result of Blackfish has removed the proverbial toothpaste from the tube and there is no going back. I have communicated with non-AR people who have said “I’m done with Sea World.” or “I’ll never take my kids there again.” The truth is out now, and they are going to discredit, stifle, or attempt to intimidate any voice bringing this reality to even more people. I actually find this an encouraging sign, aside of course from the end of James’ contributing arrangement with Forbes (which I am sorry to hear about). The fact that Forbes picked this topic as the one to quibble about says something important about the state of pressure and exposure on the important issue of marine mammal abuse and exploitation. ~Linda

  61. Peyton says:

    Where can I get that bracelet.

  62. Peyton says:

    Totally agree

  63. Claudine Erlandson says:

    Only Truth hurts! In french: Il n’y a que la vérité qui offense. Merci for speaking the TRUTH!

  64. Mark Bamberry says:

    Thank you for standing by your convictions and also being (perhaps unwittingly?) part of a movement that will one day see Dolphins and Orca free from circuses like SeaWorld.

  65. Nancy Pennington says:

    I wish there were more brave writers like you, James – who do not deny their beliefs. Thank you for your courage and please write more on this important topic for better publications.

  66. Carol says:

    I put my voice with all of the others. Thank you for haveing the courage of your convictions. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  67. Roland says:

    I hope you find a great gig soon. Congratulations for being willing to sacrifice a job based on a point of ethical conscience. You set a fine example.

  68. Adamos says:

    It’s sickening the way those greedy corporate suits always try to silence the truth in their quest to feed their evils souls with more cash

  69. Elaine Brown says:

    When it comes to truth and honesty, there can be no vacillating. What is is. To cooperate or fudge on the truth is a betrayal to self which is to diminish one’s character. (Old words from a previous post!)

    Clearly most of us deeply admire James for standing for the truth and refusing to waffle. There is no grey area here. It is either black or white. No other reason or cause is more important than withstanding the temptation to smear this truth – or any truth.

    James closes this door as another opens. He is propelled to higher heights than ever dreamed of, because he has honored his own integrity and polished his character as he stands tall and honest – surrounded by friends and admirers. James’ other causes are bolstered by his growing reputation for honesty and integrity at any cost.

  70. Stephanie says:

    Way to go James! We will share your article far and wide! We stand behind you on your decision to not comprise yourself or your professional nature as a journalist.

    Loved all of your articles on Forbes but now it’s time to go on to bigger and better things.

    I say take your story to CNN!!!

  71. Caryl Klaus says:

    What a breathe of fresh air! I am in awe at the stance that people are taking to show that we still care about earth and all it’s glories, and not all of us are willing to take liberties of nature, just because we can, doesn’t mean that we should!
    I applaud you for standing by your convictions! The arguments from the supporters are seemingly enlisted, through corrupt corporate sinister practices! It’s as if “Blackfish” pulled the band aide off the image we couldn’t face, until it was shown in the light, and out of the darkness came an Orca, begging for help!
    To turn a blind eye on their plight now, would make our souls unbearable to live with. We have to put our passion of protecting wild life into action, or forever live with the barbaric treatment of our God’s creatures! I would like to think, if the tables were turned, the Orca’s would have the heart to do the same for us!
    We must fight for what is right, not for greed!

  72. Sonya says:

    Thank you!! You have integrity – SeaWorld and Forbes should take notes.

  73. Diana Bartlett says:

    It’s unfortunate that Forbes didn’t back you.You spoke the truth and stood by it…Bravo!Whats going on at Sea World and other parks,is wrong and it needs to end. By not backing down and changing your story shows tremendous integrity as a journalist and I have so much respect for your stance. Good things lie ahead for you!

    I agree, get in touch with CNN!

  74. Lisa LeBlanc says:

    Part of me is sorry, James; Forbes is supposedly a ‘big deal’ in the media world. And I suppose we should take some cold comfort they published you while they did. It’s hard enough getting issues like these in front of people. So many choose to make their bones by writing what’s safe or only offends a little bit.
    Part of me isn’t sorry; your stories have teeth, they shock, anger and motivate. And occasionally, make us giggle.
    Please make sure you leave a forwarding address for us, won’t you?

  75. Jerald says:

    Gee, all the support others have given James is great but, really, all that we know is that the Forbes wanted some changes. What, exactly, did they request? Was it really something nefarious, as others are quick to believe, or did they, for example, find factual problems with the story?

    Really, before we put James on the high horse, we might first ask for some more details. I am not so quick to believe the editors at Forbes are either nimwits or villains.

  76. Thomas Huynh says:

    I’m so proud of you!

  77. Isobel Boyes says:

    She WASN’T pulled in by her hair so this is a glaring lack of accuracy in an otherwise very good article. That was a lie SW made up to infer blame on Dawn. If you watch the only bit of video that shows her in the water with Tilikum, you will see that it’s her arm he’s got in her mouth, not her hair. But good article and well done for standing up for it.

    • Ronnie says:

      Early on there was the full video of Dawn’s death. Maybe it was pulled by her family, understandably out of respect. But maybe Sea World? Obviously it was NOT her ponytail that attracted Tilikum.

      Her body was very damaged from the thrashing. However, I find it notable (no other way to say it) that no part of her body was torn off, as to consume. For Orca whales are very aggressive in the wild as predators. To me, this speaks of the whale’s intelligence…& possible emotions, towards Dawn, his handler. And I realize, he was very aggressive, attacked her.

      Never-the-less, Orca whales are very sentient beings. And in the ocean, they rarely, if ever, attack humans.

  78. Isobel Boyes says:

    She didn’t drown either. She was battered, bitten, shook and her scalp was left floating on the surface – she didn’t drown. She suffered a terrifying and very violent death.

    I do hope your son wrote his ‘carefully worded letter’ :-)

  79. Tanner Beebe says:

    Exellent work! I 100% agree. Empty the tanks and let these incredibly smart and remarkable beings go. I look forward to seeing marineland and seaworld shutting their doors for good.

  80. James,
    well done. You are a hero in your own right, contributing to making things better in the world.

  81. David says:

    Thank you for displaying integrity. Many would have not have done the same. Slowly there is a building resistance against the power structure.

  82. Barbara Bacon says:

    Dawn Brancheau was not dragged into the water by her ponytail, as SeaWorld wanted the world to believe. “Blackfish” exploded this myth. Tilikum grabbed Ms. Brancheau by her left arm and dragged her into the water. As my journalism professor used to say over and over, “There are 3 rules of journalism: Accuracy! Accuracy! Accuracy!”

  83. [...] documentary (hint: all of it). Yet writer James McWilliams quit his Forbes gig the very same day, writing on his personal blog that “editorial management demanded changes that I could not, in good conscience, make” [...]

  84. [...] documentary (hint: all of it). Yet writer James McWilliams quit his Forbes gig the very same day, writing on his personal blog that “editorial management demanded changes that I could not, in good conscience, make” [...]

  85. Heather Moore says:

    I’m so glad SeaWorld is finally getting the negative publicity it deserves. I went was I was younger and it was all about entertainment, not animal welfare. Orcas and other marine mammals, don’t belong in virtual bathtubs, doing silly tricks for us. Blackfish is eye-opening movie and I hope more people will see it before they even think of supporting SeaWorld.

  86. Carla says:

    Huge props to you, sir, for your courageous stand. In this particular instance, it is about so much more than the Orcas (which in itself would be PLENTY of an issue – Blackfish was amazing, and I am DISGUSTED by SeaWorld), but also about journalism and living in a country that should be touting transparency, honesty and not being controlled by the almighty dollar. These corporations are disgusting. Forbes made a very bad decision and hopefully people will not forget its idiotic choice of $$$ over honest journalism.

  87. Tonya Brady says:

    Good Job Buddy…..keep up the honesty! :) Thank you for doing your small part in helping to save these magnificent creatures!! :)

  88. Nicole Pensiero says:

    James, your article was excellent and balanced and I cannot think of any reason why Forbes would want it pulled – unless they owed a favor to SeaWorld. Good for you for standing your ground. Outside’s story on this mentions your situation, which only gives more leverage to the truth. Take care.

  89. Elaine Brown says:

    Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.
    — Spencer Johnson

  90. James, you’re a top, top TOP man. Thank you for doing what you could doesn’t seem nowhere near enough of a thing to say. But a BIG TY for your article and subsequent stance. Very best wishes, Andy.

  91. [...] F-O-R-B-E-S Well folks, I suppose it was bound to happen. I wrote a dozen pieces for Forbes.com and enjoyed it very much. But the 13th–an article critical of SeaWorld (a 2.5 billion dollar company partially owned by the Blackstone Group) and praiseworthy of ‘Blackfish” (made on a small budget)–rattled some corporate cages. [...]

  92. [...] in the blogosphere. And the film certainly engendered further controversy earlier this month when writer James McWilliams had a critical piece on Sea World pulled from Forbes.com after declining to make what he deemed were unnecessary editorial adjustments to his article [...]

  93. [...] decidió reseñar el documental Blackfish, transmitido por CNN. Como el mismo escritor narra en su blog, su reseña fue muy bien recibida por el público pero no por la compañía, la cual solicitó [...]

  94. Georgie says:

    Dear James,

    I know you have loads of other comments saying the same thing, but I just wanted to add that I am so, so happy you stood up for free-speech and what you believe in and refused to be bullied into changing your article. It was a brave thing to do – there aren’t too many people who would quit their job over a point of moral principle such as this, and I feel so proud that you did this for both freedom of speech and exposing the truth about SeaWorld and captivity.
    Thank you so much,

    I wish you all the best in the future,


  95. Brad B says:

    The guy defending SeaWorld is believing his own lies.If they are not doing tricks for fish,then what are they doing then? That guy is obviously living in la la land,or has a big paycheck for speaking his garbage and downplaying the facts.He then attacks the blackfish makers while fully knowing that SeaWorld is nothing more than an animal exploiting cash maker.He has the nerve to say that the orcas love the small pools.Is he nuts? People are not that stupid so he needs to shut up.People,PLEASE bankrupt and shut down SeaWorld.These people are taking animals that do not belong to them! They are trying to sound so self righteous and caring but his lies are so obvious he makes me sick.GOOD for the celebrities that cancelled their concerts and turned their backs on this evil corporation.

  96. justun says:

    Am I mistaken or does everyone think that Sea World was responsible for all these wrong doings in the 60′s and 70′s? From my understanding the Japanese killed these and other water mammals as part of their tradition to thin the population as they ate all their fish. (Which by the way they have over fished and now they are in Mexico overfishing there and killing off they sea lions) Other businesses such as in Mexico City and at California Six Flags were the ones who kept these animals in extremely small tanks with poor water conditions. Lastly, Sea world didn’t catch Tilikum the Killer Whale, they purchased him from SeaLand, a now defunct park, back when no one cared…..shown by the fact that it was said the Military used to use Killer whale’s as target practice. Does Sea World need to make some changes? Yes, should they take all the blame? No.

  97. gina says:

    SeaWorld is largely responsible for the decline of the southern resident population from kidnapping them out of their homes in the 60′s and 70′s and they have never fully recovered since then. They started it all and they need to end it all. The only reason they ever stopped was because they legally cannot capture in the US anymore. The story is here: http://captivecetaceans-tragicallysad.blogspot.com/2014/05/seaworld-and-aquarium-captures-and.html

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