'Blackfish' prompts school to cancel long-standing SeaWorld trip

Story highlights

  • A Malibu, California, school has sent students to SeaWorld annually
  • But the film "Blackfish" prompts parents and a determined student to push for change
  • A school trip is canceled -- SeaWorld says it's the first, and it's "disappointing"
  • Several performers have canceled SeaWorld dates since "Blackfish" aired

With a parade of performers already canceling appearances at SeaWorld, now at least one school class says it's dropping a long-scheduled trip to the park over concerns about the treatment of whales as shown in the documentary "Blackfish."

The overnight trip to SeaWorld has been a tradition for fifth-graders at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School in Malibu, California, for at least a decade, according to Principal Rebecca Johnson, but concerns from parents and students including one determined 10-year-old prompted a decision to go elsewhere on this year's trip.

Although Johnson mostly credited parents for influencing the change, several parents CNN spoke with said 10-year-old Kirra Kotler played a major role in the decision.

The girl watched the film "Blackfish" with her parents and immediately afterward announced, "I never want to go to SeaWorld again," according to her father, Kirby Kotler. The Kotler family had taken trips to SeaWorld several times, he said.

Kirby, 50, who attended Point Dume the year it first opened, said the entire family was affected by the film but Kirra became especially determined.

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"She's always said she's going to be a veterinarian," Kirby said. "She's very passionate about animals."

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A SeaWorld spokesman told CNN by e-mail that Point Dume "is the only instance of a camp cancellation that we've experienced." Dave Koontz, SeaWorld's communications director, also wrote that the theme park believes "Blackfish" is misleading and inaccurate. "It's disappointing that this year's class (from Point Dume) will not be participating because of the film," he wrote.

"Blackfish" -- which first aired on CNN in October -- traces a 39-year history of killer whales in captivity leading up to the 2010 killing of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by the 12,000-pound orca, Tilikum, a whale previously associated with the death of two other people.

At least seven entertainers and groups, from the Canadian rock band Barenaked Ladies to country music singer Martina McBride, have canceled appearances at SeaWorld in the wake of "Blackfish."

After seeing the film, Kirra Kirby wanted to share it with her friends, her father said. She was determined to get the school to consider other options for the annual trip.

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"She's very shy," Kirby said of his daughter. "But she finally found her voice."

Kirby said Kirra launched a word-of-mouth to campaign for the change, in some cases receiving backlash from fellow students who thought she was trying to cancel their overnight trip entirely instead of just changing the destination.

Principal Johnson said she is in the process of verifying details for a new trip.

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