A statement released by People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on Tuesday calls out an activist who “has been trying to cozy up to PETA employees and unsuspecting members of the public who object to SeaWorld’s practices.” The man, known as Thomas Jones, is believed to be SeaWorld Human Resources employee Paul T. McComb.
PETA states that McComb, under the Thomas Jones moniker, has tried to stir up trouble among activists. While he has “attend[ed] meetings and peaceful protests,” he has also “post[ed] inflammatory messages on social media, such as ‘burn [SeaWorld] to the ground’ and ‘drain the new tanks at #SeaWorld,’ in an attempt to incite illegal actions.”
Criticism of SeaWorld’s business practices has ramped up in the past few years, spurred by the CNN-produced documentary “Blackfish” which shows how being raised in captivity affects Orca whales. Tilikum, the main captive Orca whale shown in the movie, has aggressively killed three people. Many believe there is a correlation between SeaWorld’s captivity practices and Tilikum’s behavior. SeaWorld released a statement claiming that the film was “inaccurate and misleading,” and that the corporation “rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals each year.”
Non-violent protests of animal rights issues such as SeaWorld’s practices have grown in the age of the Internet, where organizing is easier than ever. Websites dedicated to solely watching SeaWorld, such as SeaWorldofHurt, have helped activists figure out how they can help the fight against unethical practices. The documentary’s release resulted in conversation and reflection about the theme park, indirectly leading to several of its partners (including Southwest, Mattel, and the Miami Dolphins) pulling out of business deals. Animal rights activism even reached Capitol Hill last year, when an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Act supplied $1 million to researchers who study captivity impact.
“Blackfish” has captivated viewers, something that didn’t sit well with SeaWorld. Jones allegedly signed up to be a part of PETA’s Action Team some time before the 2014 Rose Parade, where he was arrested protesting. “But after being handcuffed and taken to the police station,” PETA’s press release states, “he mysteriously disappeared, his name, real or otherwise, never appearing on arrest sheets.” PETA then filed an FOIA request to see the documents.
PETA states that of the two addresses “Jones” used in his Action Team application, one of them actually belonged to a San Diego P.O. Box belonging to Director of Security at SeaWorld San Diego Ric Marcelino.
From the press release:
“McComb has repeatedly tried to incite animal advocates to act illegally, stating that it’s time for SeaWorld protesters to “get a little aggressive,” to engage in “direct action,” to “grab your pitch forks [sic] and torches,” and to blow horns outside the homes of SeaWorld vice presidents at night. He also organized a “direct action” protest—advertising it as “more exciting than just holding signs”—only to fail to appear at the demonstration.”
Website Mashable.com asked SeaWorld Communications Director David Koontz about the revelations, but got a standard broad “neither confirm nor deny” respose. SeaWorld did, however, criticize PETA for “engaging espionage of its own,” according to writer Patrick Kulp.
On Thursday, Reuters reported that Paul McComb has been suspended by Sea World as they launch an internal investigation.
SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said in a statement:
“These allegations, if true, are not consistent with the values of the SeaWorld organization and will not be tolerated. We have placed the employee in question on paid administrative leave pending the findings of the investigation.”