People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), is sponsoring a new ad at the San Diego airport, urging visitors to avoid Sea World. The ad is displayed in the baggage claims areas of Lindbergh Field.
The controversial ad features a picture of actress Kathy Najimy, best-known for her roles in "Sister Act" and "Victoria's Closet." She also lent the voice to Peggy Hill on the animated series "King of the Hill."
The sign reads "Welcome to San Diego. If you love animals like I do, please avoid SeaWorld."
Airport management initially resisted posting the sign, until PETA joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union. Operators of JCDecaux, the agency managing advertisements for the airport, usually forbids posting of any disparaging or demeaning content in their posted materials. Faced with the possibility of a lawsuit, the airport relented, as part of a legal settlement. The ACLU claimed the facility would be violating the First Amendment rights of PETA members if they refused to display the advertisement.
"There appears to have been viewpoint discrimination, and we are glad that issue was resolved," Sean Riordan, senior staff attorney for the local American Civil Liberties Union, told reporters.
Sea World and other major marine parks have faced harsh criticism over the display of animals, including killer whales.
"Blackfish," a 2010 documentary, tells the story of one of those animals who killed a human trainer. That incident occurred that same year at a Sea World facility in Orlando, Fla. That film inspired a bill, brought before Congress, that would have prohibited the use of killer whales in such shows. That measure was voted down, as lawmakers called for more information in the debate.
Sea World parks are found in several cities, and they welcomed more than 24 million visitors in 2012. The organizations points out their efforts to help animals.
"SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment supports conservation programs and also operates one of the world's most respected wildlife rescue programs.... SeaWorld has helped animals in need -- ill, injured, orphaned, and abandoned -- for more than four decades. More than 23,000 animals have been rescued by the park's animal experts. The goal of the program is to rehabilitate then return these animals to the wild," the business states on its Web site.
The goal of all advertisement is to attract the attention of those who see the notices. It is still too early to tell the degree to which travelers are being influenced by the ad.