SeaWorld Orcas To End Live Shows In San Diego By 2017

SeaWorld is finally capitulating to public pressure to treat its orcas with more dignity, pressure which increased exponentially after the release of the controversial 2013 documentary Blackfish. In a statement released Monday afternoon, SeaWorld representatives have announced that live orca shows will be phased out at the San Diego SeaWorld location between now and 2017. While this step will not ensure that orcas are released from captivity, it will prevent them from being forced to perform on demand while in captivity, Fox News reports.

SeaWorld saw its revenue plummet drastically following the release of Blackfish, which portrayed the manner in which orcas are captured in the wild, the degree of their emotional intelligence and the negative impact a life of captivity and forced performances have on the killer whales. Consumers began to reject SeaWorld in droves, and attendance at the parks dropped off.

Just last Thursday, SeaWorld reported that the company's 3rd quarter earnings were less than anticipated by Wall Street, likely due to the public's backlash relating to Blackfish. Despite the lower attendance at SeaWorld parks and sub-par 3rd quarter earnings, SeaWorld stock did see a 5 percent increase in value over the last year.

Kasatka and Baby
[Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images]The increased stock value, however, clearly wasn't enough to keep SeaWorld viable in the long-term, particularly with public awareness so focused on the company. Legislators have even been getting involved in the orca situation at the Orlando-based company's parks. If SeaWorld hadn't taken it upon itself to make some changes, chances are the law would soon be compelling the company to do so. Currently, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank is working on soon-to-be introduced federal legislation that would severely restrict the handling of orcas.

Known as the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement Act, Schiff's bill would make it a crime to breed captive orcas, to capture wild orcas and to import or export orcas to or from the United States. Effectively, Schiff has said he's working to ensure that the current generation of orcas at SeaWorld and other parks will be the last.

"The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display."
The public definitely agrees.
While SeaWorld is committing to the end of orca shows at its San Diego location, the company hasn't mentioned what will happen at its other parks in Texas and Florida. Nor does it promise or even allude to the concept of of currently captive orcas being released from SeaWorld custody. Rather, IFLScience is reporting that the orcas currently in captivity will be placed into educational displays that are more similar to the orca's natural environment.

The State of California has taken steps to curtail and regulate the practices of SeaWorld since the release of Blackfish. Just this October, the state passed legislation outlawing the captive breeding of orcas following reports that captive killer whales don't live as long as those in the wild. As part of the new legislation, SeaWorld was given the go-ahead for a $100 million expansion to their killer whale tanks/exhibits. Presumably, this money will go to create the new educational/conservation-centered exhibits which will replace the current orca shows at SeaWorld San Diego by 2017.

Baby Orca
[Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images]The new October ruling that bans captive breeding of orcas at SeaWorld and everywhere else in California might shed some light on today's announcement by SeaWorld. Their decision seems to put them in compliance with the new California law without holding out-of-state SeaWorld locations to the stricter California regulations. If the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement Act passes at the federal level, the changes to SeaWorld performances could presumably spread to the other SeaWorld parks in the U.S.

While today's announcement from SeaWorld is definitely a step in the right direction, there's still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the treatment of captive orcas. We can only hope the actions currently being taken by SeaWorld are indicative of a sincere desire to provide better lives for the animals in their care, and not simply placating steps being used to barely conform to new legislation. Only time will tell how serious SeaWorld is about the ultimate well-being of orcas both in and out of captivity.

[Image Courtesy of Geraldo Mora/Getty Images]