SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. announced Thursday that it will end orca breeding programs immediately, and begin phasing out the park's theatrical shows, after months of media scrutiny and criticism from animal rights activists.
SeaWorld has struggled with dramatic financial losses and a collapse in park attendance since the release of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," which followed the life of Tilkum, a SeaWorld whale. The documentary also revealed the dangers of keeping animals in captivity, and inspired citizens across the country to boycott the parks and call for an end to keeping animals in captivity.
“SeaWorld has introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas, and we are proud of our part in contributing to the human understanding of these animals," said Joel Manby, president and CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., in a recent statement.
Click to read Manby's Op-Ed to the Los Angeles Times: "SeaWorld CEO: We're ending our orca breeding program. Here's why"
With the end of the park's breeding program, the 29 whales at the SeaWorld parks – including the five whales at SeaWorld San Antonio – are the last generation of orcas in captivity. Whales born in captivity are unable to survive in the wild, said Manby, but those 29 whales will be cared by SeaWorld for the remainder of their lives.
"By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will experience these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter," he said.
Sea World will also phase out traditional theatrical shows in which trainers guide the whales to perform tricks, and replace them with “new inspiring natural orca encounters,” to educate visitors about the animals health and wellness, and highlight ongoing conservation efforts.
The new "orca encounters" shows will begin at the San Diego park in 2017, and will roll out to San Antonio and Orlando by 2019.
SeaWorld officials said that the company would be expanding its efforts to improve public education, outreach and conservation through a new partnership with the Humane Society, and that SeaWorld has committed to donate $50 million over the next five years to fight illegal fishing of whales and seals.
Top Image: According to the website: "SeaWorld's killer whale breeding program is the most successful in the world, with 24 successful killer whale births since the program’s inception in 1985. More than 80 percent of the marine mammals in SeaWorld’s care were born in the parks. Additionally, the breeding program has made major contributions to the understanding of killer whale biology and reproductive physiology." Photo courtesy of SeaWorld.