- Publish Date
- Friday, 18 March 2016, 8:38AM
Finally bowing to years of public pressure, SeaWorld have announced that they will immediately stop breeding killer whales and making them perform crowd-pleasing tricks at its theme parks.
SeaWorld's remaining killer whales, or orcas, will still be on display, but in "new, inspiring natural orca encounters," rather than theatrical programs, the company said.
Attendance at SeaWorld's parks dropped after the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish, which was highly critical of the orca program. SeaWorld reported a fourth-quarter loss of $11 million in February.
"Society's attitudes have shifted," said Joel Manby, president and chief executive officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. during a telephone news conference. "It wasn't worth fighting that."
"We needed to move to where society was moving. That's why it's now and not two years in the future," Manby said.
The new shows will begin next year at the SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.'s San Diego park, before expanding to its San Antonio park and then to the Orlando, Florida, park in 2019.
Orcas have been a centerpiece of the SeaWorld parks since shows at the Shamu stadium in San Diego became the main draw in the 1970s, helping to make SeaWorld a top tourist attraction. The San Diego show was the original home of Shamu, SeaWorld's first orca.
But criticism over keeping them captive grew after an orca named Tilikum grabbed trainer Dawn Brancheau after a Dine with Shamu show and pulled her into the pool, killing her. That death in 2010 was highlighted in Blackfish. Tilikum, who was also involved in the deaths of two other people in the 1990s, is now very sick. He has been at SeaWorld Orlando for 23 years.
Asked if SeaWorld may eventually decide to end shows involving dolphins and other marine mammals, Manby said, "Stay tuned on that."
"A lot of people don't understand how hard it is internally to make these kinds of decisions," he said. "We need to execute this well. We need to make sure we have the organization in the same direction. Then we will apply those learnings elsewhere."
Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle called SeaWorld's about-face a "monumental announcement."
"We don't come to this discussion with any naivete about the operations at SeaWorld," Pacelle said. "We didn't want to be endlessly mired in conflict with SeaWorld. The goal was to make progress for animal rights."
PETA wasn't satisfied, insisting Thursday that SeaWorld should give up its orcas altogether.
"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 spokeswoman Colleen O'Brien said in a statement.
The Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums said it sympathises with the decision by SeaWorld, a member of the Virginia-based trade group. The group's president and CEO Kathleen Dezio called SeaWorld "a principled company" and an industry leader, and said no company could withstand the prolonged protests that targeted its parks for nearly three years.
But SeaWorld has done more than any other organization to motivate people to care about orcas in the wild, Dezio's statement said, and losing opportunities to see them on display may threaten efforts to protect them in the long run.
By August 2014, SeaWorld said it would build new, larger environments for its marine mammals and fund additional research and conservation efforts. The project has yet to get off the ground.