Longtime promotional and marketing partners Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld have announced their decision to part ways after their contract expires at the end of 2014. Their relationship began in 1988 and involved combined deals on the airline and theme park.
While a spokesperson from SeaWorld said the decision was mutual, animal rights activists have objected to Southwest's association with SeaWorld, especially after the release of the controversial documentary "Blackfish" about the conditions of captive orcas and what motivated Tilikum to kill trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
In January of this year, Southwest released a statement about the documentary, but insisted that the partnership would continue: "We have a longstanding relationship with SeaWorld that is based on travel and bringing families together. We are engaged with Sea World [sic] related to the recent concerns being raised ... At this time, our partnership with SeaWorld will continue."
USA Today reports on mounting pressure for Southwest to part ways with the theme park:
The advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had urged Southwest to drop the agreement, and Change.org gathered 32,459 signatures for a petition asking the airline to help stop animal cruelty.
The companies said their decision was mutual. Southwest said it's focusing more on local markets, while SeaWorld said it's looking to growing markets in Latin America and Asia.
Southwest's three planes with customized paint jobs featuring Shamu or penguins on the side will return to the company's traditional color scheme.
Regardless of what prompted it, this separation is probably best for Southwest at least from a public relations perspective.