Party Fowl: Restaurant Cancels SeaWorld's 50th-Anniversary Gala After Learning It Would Feature Live Penguins

After protests from PETA, the trendy Manhattan restaurant that was set to host the festivities turned its back on the marine amusement park.

(Photo: Darrell Gulin/Getty Images)

Jan 14, 2014· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

Still reeling from the storm of criticism that has followed the release of the documentary Blackfish, SeaWorld suffered yet another blow on Tuesday when plans for its 50th-anniversary party were foiled. The trendy Manhattan restaurant that was set to host the festivities abruptly canceled on the marine amusement park. The event was to include two live penguins transported to the event by SeaWorld.

The surprising cancellation came after supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lobbied the owner to reconsider and promised to protest outside the restaurant, Bagatelle, a bistro in the West Village.

“After learning from PETA about SeaWorld’s routine exploitation of animals—which was movingly documented by the blockbuster documentary Blackfish—Bagatelle’s owners did ‘what was right’ and figuratively told SeaWorld to go jump in an Antarctic lake,” PETA wrote on its website.

PETA spokesperson Ashley Byrne says the group wrote to the restaurant on Friday asking the owners to not hold the event, which was garnering negative publicity in New York and online.

“We explained first of all that it was cruel to have these penguins on display at a crowded, noisy party in the middle of New York City and that their business shouldn't be partnering with SeaWorld,” she says.

Late Monday night, PETA received an email from the restaurant’s owner, Remi Laba, saying that she would not allow the penguins to be on display at the party. A second email said the party was being canceled. “My partner and I have decided to cancel the event. Please know that we were booked by a third party agency and didn't know who the client was and what was going on,” Laba wrote in the email.

Neither the restaurant nor SeaWorld returned calls requesting comment.

The spoiled party plans come at a time when SeaWorld is struggling to protect its image, which has been tarnished both by Blackfish and by recent cancellations of concerts by Willie Nelson, Barenaked Ladies, and seven other musical acts that were set to perform at the park. It has also been the target of protests at the Thanksgiving Day parade in New York and the Rose Parade in Pasadena, as well as a damning video produced by high school students in San Diego, among other headaches.

PETA wrote on its website that it was protesting both the long-distance transport of the birds and the keeping of killer whales in captivity: “SeaWorld’s planned event would have caused penguins tremendous stress both during transport to the venue and while surrounded by loud music and noisy party guests.”

According to the Penguin Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, it takes great effort to move the birds around.

“Penguins' adaptation to cold weather conditions, especially the polar species, makes transportation challenging,” the group reported in a 2005 paper.

Because of the susceptibility to overheating, special consideration must be taken when transporting polar species of penguins. “If the temperature is above 40 Fahrenheit, it is recommended that the penguins be moved in a refrigerated truck,” the paper reads. But, it continues, SeaWorld has “developed protocols for the use of refrigerated trucks and has successfully transported many penguins between their facilities.”

SeaWorld has three U.S. parks (in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio), but it is not known from which location the penguins would have been transported.

Byrne says PETA was pleased but not surprised by the move, given all the bad publicity heaped on SeaWorld.

“Over the past several months, and especially since people had seen Blackfish, we have seen that nobody wants to be associated with cruelty to animals,” she says, "and that means people don't want to be associated with SeaWorld.”