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Reaction To SeaWorld’s Decision to End All Captive Breeding Of Killer Whales


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Photo: Ingrid Vissir, Ph.D.

Photo: Ingrid Vissir, Ph.D.

SeaWorld says this generation of killer whales will be its last.

The company announced Thursday it is ending all captive breeding of the animals and also the theatrical shows featuring them.

Instead SeaWorld said it will introduce “new, inspiring, natural orca encounters.” The change will start in San Diego next year, followed by San Antonio and Orlando in 2019.

SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby  said SeaWorld wants to put new focus on its conservation work, which has been overshadowed by recent negative publicity.

“Society’s attitude toward these very very large, very majestic animals being under human care has shifted, and it’s a variety of reasons whether it’s the film, legislation, people’s comments on the Internet,” he said. “It was clear to me we needed to remove this barrier.”

Manby explained to journalist on a call Thursday about SeaWorld’s shift toward “natural orca encounters.”

“What we’re going to do in these orca encounters is highlight the natural behaviors of our whales, how they hunt, how they play, how they communicate. But most of all in anything we do so our guests can see our whales on display is communicate about the plight of all our animals but especially our whales in the wild.”

It is a dramatic shift for the company with an identity so closely intertwined with Shamu. But its business suffered after an Orlando orca killed a trainer in 2010 and the documentary “Blackfish” suggested the animal’s treatment contributed to the death.

This is part of a new business strategy for SeaWorld emphasizing animal conservation. The company also announced a new partnership with the Humane Society.

“Obviously we also welcome the additional attention to the welfare of the animals, the enrichment activities, the exercising of the animals in captivity,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society. “Those animals are going to be around for many years to come.”

Twenty-nine killer whales are in captivity at SeaWorld theme parks, including a pregnant one. Their average lifespan is 19 to 50 years.

SeaWorld Visitors, Former Employees & Critics React 

Jeff Ventre is a former SeaWorld trainer who appears in the documentary “Blackfish.” He’s been an outspoken critic of SeaWorld, and said he doesn’t know what the impact of this announcement will be for his former employer.

“SeaWorld hasn’t been clear about how it’s going to handle other animals like beluga whales or white-sided dolphins or bottlenose dolphins. But on the surface this appears to be a very bold, positive move by SeaWorld to eventually phase out killer whales in captivity.”

Visitors entering the park just hours after the news broke had mixed feelings. Many, like Perry Hudson from Oklahoma City, were looking forward to seeing the killer whales and said it’s an experience people can’t get anywhere else.

“Seems to me that SeaWorld does a lot of good when it comes to protecting sea life,” said Hudson, “and it seems like their breeding program leads to some of the knowledge that they have when it comes to protecting sea life.”

Animal rights activists say the era of animals as tourist attractions is coming to a quick end.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, is hoping to see the theme park focus more on rescue operations and research.

“SeaWorld making this decision is a big indication of where this industry is going. Other marine parks will follow suit,” said PETA spokeswoman Ashley Byrne who cites SeaWorld is the largest and most lucrative theme park to make the monumental announcement.

But PETA is calling on SeaWorld to take its plan to end its captive killer whale breeding a step further by transferring the whales and other marine life out of the parks.

“SeaWorld must open its tanks to the ocean to allow the orcas who are still being held captive to have some semblance of a life outside of these prison tanks.”

PETA said SeaWorld would own and manage the tanks.

The company  hasn’t acquired a killer whale from the wild in 40 years. Nearly all of the 29 orcas SeaWorld has, have spent most or all of their lives in captivity. The company said returning the animals to the oceans is not an option. The animals’ lifespan is 19 to 50 years, meaning killer whales will remain at SeaWorld for many years.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 4:07pm


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