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Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld end long relationship amid animal activists' outcry

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Southwest Airlines SeaWorld penguin plane
Southwest Airlines' "co-branded" plane painted with images of SeaWorld animals will be returned to the airline's stable.  Photo courtesy of SeaWorld
Southwest Airlines SeaWorld penguin plane
As part of a fanfare surrounding a penguin-painted jet, Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld flew two penguins around the country in 2013. Photo by SeaWorld
Southwest Airlines SeaWorld penguin plane
Southwest Airlines SeaWorld penguin plane

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld Entertainment are ending their 25-year-old marketing partnership, effective at the end of 2014. According to a release by the airline, Southwest and SeaWorld "have mutually decided not to renew their partnership," and the decision was "based on shifting priorities."

"Southwest and SeaWorld have enjoyed their long relationship and wish each other continued success," the release concludes.

 Southwest's relationship with SeaWorld dates back to 1988, when SeaWorld opened its theme park in San Antonio. 

Southwest has been the object of a series of protests by animal activists who object to the way whales, dolphins and other marine animals are treated by SeaWorld. In January, a group protested outside the company's Dallas headquarters.

Southwest took a measured response, posting on its blog that it had received feedback regarding its partnership with SeaWorld from customers and community members, saying, "We want our customers to know that we've heard your concerns and we do not take them lightly."

SeaWorld has been under fire ever since the release of Blackfish, a documentary starring a quartet of former SeaWorld employees that raises questions about the marine park's treatment of its animals and the safety of its staff. In 2010, SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by an orca named Tilikum.

The park was also besieged by negative press surrounding a concert scheduled for its Orlando park in March 2014. Nearly all of the acts scheduled to perform — including Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Heart, Trisha Yearwood, REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick, 38 Special and Martina McBride — dropped off the bill, over allegations made in the film.

Southwest's relationship with SeaWorld dates back to 1988, when SeaWorld opened its theme park in San Antonio. The two companies formed an alliance that included discount fares and Southwest's "co-branding" of three of its planes, by painting images of the captive animals on their exterior.

A petition launched in late October urging Southwest Airlines to end ties with SeaWorld collected more than 32,000 signatures.

The three Southwest airplanes that were painted with SeaWorld animals will be returned to the Southwest stable.

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