SeaWorld announced on Thursday that it will stop breeding captive killer whales and phase out its theatrical orca shows at all of its theme parks. Animal rights activists had been campaigning for such a move for years. (more)
SeaWorld Entertainment chief executive Joel Manby said the announcement means that the current generation of orcas will be the last in SeaWorld's care, noting that the company hasn't collected an orca from the wild in nearly four decades.
The company said the decision to end orca breeding programs will take effect immediately, but theatrical killer whale shows will continue for several years. San Diego will be the first park to end theatrical shows in 2017, as was previously announced, but the company has now decided to also end the shows at its parks in San Antonio and Orlando, effective 2019.
Instead, SeaWorld promises to introduce a program that allows orcas to focus on behaviors that are more natural, though specific details have not yet been released. It also means that the orcas currently at SeaWorld will continue to live out their lives in captivity.
"Some critics want us to go even further; they want us to 'set free' the orcas currently in our care. But that's not a wise option," Manby said in an op-ed. "Most of our orcas were born at SeaWorld, and those that were born in the wild have been in our parks for the majority of their lives. If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die."
SeaWorld has long faced criticism for its killer whale shows, particularly after the release of the documentary “Blackfish" in 2013, but Manby emphasized on Thursday that people's attitudes about orcas have "changed dramatically" since the first SeaWorld park opened in 1964.
"Orcas, or killer whales, were not universally loved, to put it mildly," he said. "Instead, they were feared, hated and even hunted. Half a century later, orcas are among the most popular marine mammals on the planet. One reason: People came to SeaWorld and learned about orcas up close."
Animal rights organization PETA said Thursday's announcement follows years of campaigning and is a "payoff" for future generations of orcas. "SeaWorld must open its tanks to the oceans to allow the orcas it now holds captive to have some semblance of a life outside these prison tanks," PETA Director Mimi Bekhechi said.
Tilikum, the orca which made headlines when it killed its trainer during a show at SeaWorld Orlando and subsequently was the subject of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish", has died after a lengthy illness, the park says. (more) Read More
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SeaWorld San Diego announced Monday that it plans to phase out its theatrical killer whale show and introduce a “new orca experience” that takes place in a more natural setting and carries a conservation message. (more) Read More