SeaWorld has faced a world of backlash since the 2013 documentary Blackfish depicted the problems within the sea-park industry and the sad consequences of enclosing highly intelligent marine mammals in a tank.
After years of protests, the CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby has announced putting a stop to the controversial theatrical orca shows at its San Diego park. The plan is to phase them by the end of 2016.
The decision to end the orca shows is a direct response to customers, as attendance at the San Diego park dropped 17% last year and continues to drop. Manby said:
“We are listening to our guests, evolving as a company, we are always changing. In 2017 we will launch an all new orca experience focused on natural environment [of whales]. 2016 will be the last year of our theatrical killer whale experience in San Diego.”
In addition, SeaWorld will implement a few more changes, including replacing the shows with a new orca experience that emphasizes a more natural environment for the mammals and an informative, conservation-minded approach that inspires people to act. Manby wants to refocus SeaWorld on the conservation of animals, not their entertainment.
Although the orca shows will continue at SeaWorld’s other parks in San Antonio, Texas and Orlando, Florida, this represents a step in the right direction. Manby’s decision comes days after congressman Adam Schiff said he would introduce legislation to end the captivity of orcas at SeaWorld:
“The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display. We cannot be responsible stewards of our natural environment and propagate messages about the importance of animal welfare when our behaviors do not reflect our principles…The decision by SeaWorld to phase out killer whale shows in San Diego is a welcome step along the path towards ending the captivity of these magnificent creatures. Much more needs to be done, however.”
In an attempt to do more, California Coastal Commission approved a $100 million expansion of the orcas’ tanks in San Diego in October, but attached an amendment that banned captive breeding – including through artificial insemination – and also banned the sale, trade or transfer of captive orcas. The amendment halted the project, which would have tripled the size of existing enclosures.