After years of controversy and ongoing protests from animal rights groups, SeaWorld has decided to end its orca breeding program.
SeaWorld President & CEO Joel Manby went on a press junket with representatives from the Humane Society of the United States Thursday morning to announce the historic changes at its theme parks in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego.
The company is joining with the Humane Society, one of SeaWorld’s most vocal critics over the years, in what’s being called a “broad new partnership” to protect the world’s oceans and their marine life.
“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,” Manby said in a press release. “As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. 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.”
The orcas currently living at the company’s theme parks will stay put and not be released back into the wild as many animal rights advocates had hoped. According to SeaWorld, orcas that have spent their entire lives in human care “could not survive in oceans that include environmental concerns such as pollution and other man-made threats.”
The theatrical shows at Shamu Stadium will be phased out and replaced with what are described as more “natural orca encounters” which focus on behaviors the animals have in the wild.
In announcing the changes, SeaWorld acknowledged that public attitudes about animals in human care have evolved and that they’ve decided to evolve with them. The sea change comes after the company said last week that the centerpiece of its breeding program, a 35-year-old orca named Tilikum, was slowly dying from a bacterial infection.
Tilikum is the same whale that killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010. The incident became the focus of the controversial 2013 documentary Blackfish, which sparked widespread calls for SeaWorld to stop keeping orcas in captivity.