More than 100 dairy producers and allied industry representatives from 15 states toured SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo in January. The group was part of Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin’s annual Managers Academy. The three-day event was held in San Diego, California, this year.

Cooley walt polo
Editor and Podcast Host / Progressive Dairy

The group got a behind-the-scenes look at SeaWorld that included the park’s on-site vet clinic, fish-feeding preparation area and rescued animal care facilities. Officials from SeaWorld also discussed their challenges dealing with animal rights activists, including PETA, and the controversial film Blackfish.

Senior Veterinarian Dr Todd Schmidt tells PDPW's Managers Academy about his upbringing“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan to address animal rights activists,” said SeaWorld San Diego’s Director of Communications Dave Koontz while addressing the group. “Situations are often different.”

Koontz acknowledged the challenges the park faces when it comes to animal care are ongoing.

Producers learn about SeaWorld's yourht education efforts whlie standing in the courtyard of the education center“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Koontz said about the park’s efforts to proactively communicate its message about animal care and to restore the park’s reputation.


The marine park is engaged across multiple platforms, including print, the internet and social media, to highlight SeaWorld’s “honesty, humility and humanity.” Koontz said the most important question to ask when faced with a crisis is: “Do I have the capacity to endure this?”

If the answer is yes, then he said to never give up and continue to communicate. He encouraged the visiting dairy producers to connect with consumers on all fronts – “en masse or one-on-one.”

Zoo educator feed a giraffe for Managers Academy participants

At the zoo, participants received a private, open-air bus tour of the 100-year-old zoo and observed up close the zoo’s staff feed its giraffes with live greens. The group was permitted to stay in the park after hours for a catered dinner.

Zoo officials presented the group with their vision to “end extinction” and their strategic plan to “unite, fight and ignite” resources to save critically endangered species.

Rhino at San Diego Zoo

That plan currently focuses on saving the Northern white rhino species, of which only three animals remain on the planet. None of the living rhinos are capable of breeding, so the zoo is working with many different entities to stretch the limits of science in the areas of genomics, stem cells and embryo transfer. The zoo’s goal is to have a white rhino calf born by 2023 from a surrogate African black rhino.

Dairymand Jesse Brutscher and other event participants collaborate about financial recommendationsAfter the first day of tours, attendees learned about dairy-specific financial management strategies for uncertain times and best practice financial monitors. Mike Boehlje of Purdue University and David Kohl of Virginia Tech were the instructors for the final two days of the event.  end mark

See the video below:

PHOTO 1: More than 100 dairy producers from 15 states participated in Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin’s Managers Academy in San Diego, California, in January. This was the 13th consecutive year for the event. Photo by Ray Merritt.

PHOTO 2: SeaWorld San Diego’s senior veterinarian Dr. Todd Schmitt tells PDPW’s Managers Academy participants about his upbringing as the son of a large-animal veterinarian in Montana and how he ended up working with marine mammals. Photo by Ray Merritt.

PHOTO 3: Producers learn about SeaWorld’s youth education efforts while standing in the courtyard of the marine park’s education center. Photo by Ray Merritt.

PHOTO 4: Zoo educators feed a giraffe for Managers Academy participants and discuss how the care these ruminants receive is somewhat similar to the care of cows on dairies. Photo by Walt Cooley

PHOTO 5: The San Diego Zoo has the corporate vision to “end extinction.” One of the zoo’s current projects is to curtail the endangerment of rhinos, especially the Northern white rhino. There are only three living animals from the species left. (The rhino pictured here is one of a different species.) Photo by Walt Cooley

PHOTO 6: Dairyman Jesse Brutscher (right) and other event participants collaborate about financial recommendations for a hypothetical dairy presented by Dr. David Kohl, an emeritus professor at Virginia Tech. The exercise was part of a case study in dairy growth management and financial fitness presented during the event. Photo by Ray Merritt.

Walt Cooley