The times are changing for SeaWorld, and SeaWorld is changing with the times.
The massive oceanarium — which has parks in California, Florida, and Texas — announced it will be no longer breed killer whales in captivity.
“SeaWorld has been listening and we’re changing. Society is changing and we’re changing with it. SeaWorld is finding new ways to continue to deliver on our purpose to inspire all our guest to take action to protect wild animals and wild places.”
“This announcement reaffirms our commitment to not collect marine mammals from the wild. After all, we haven’t collected an orca from the wild in almost 40 years, and the orcas at SeaWorld were either born there or have spent almost their entire lives in human care.”
According to a statement in NPR by SeaWorld President and CEO Joel Manby, the company will also increase its focus on rescue operations.
“As one of the largest rescue organizations in the world, we will increase our focus on rescue operations — so that the thousands of stranded marine mammals like dolphins and sea lions that cannot be released back to the wild will have a place to go.”
SeaWorld’s treatment of captive orcas has been under fire from animal rights groups for quite some time. PETA claims that the orcas are forced to perform “unnatural” tricks and “swim in endless circles.” According to the group, some animals “float listlessly in a lateral position,” which PETA claims are signs of psychological distress and boredom in captivity.
In 2013, the documentary, Blackfish, brought further attention to the lives of killer whales at SeaWorld. Created by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Blackfish follows the capture and life of the killer whale, Tilikum, who killed its trainer, Dawn Brancheau.
The documentary argues that Tilikum’s captivity at SeaWorld contributed to the whale’s aggression and that whales in captivity do not live as long as their wild counterparts.
Former Jackass star, Steve-O, also contributed to the public outcry against SeaWorld. In August, 2015, the 41-year-old star climbed a 100-foot crane with an inflatable whale that had “SeaWorld sucks” written across it. Steve said he was inspired to speak out against SeaWorld after watching Blackfish.
SeaWorld recognized the power of the film, admitting that Blackfish in part caused a decline in attendance at the park.
The company also said it would gradually phase out its orca shows over the course of three years.
“No longer a theatrical show, this live presentation will have the feel of an engaging documentary centered on the orca’s natural behaviors, physical attributes, intelligence, social structures and unique relationship with mankind.”
“Our existing show pools and viewing areas will be redesigned into a more naturalistic setting and we will continue to present the whales at scheduled times before a guest audience. This change will start in our San Diego park next year, followed by San Antonio and then Orlando in 2019.”
Both Cowperthwaite and the Humane Society lauded SeaWorld’s new direction.
Cowperthwaite called the decision “a defining moment. The fact that SeaWorld is doing away with orca breeding marks truly meaningful change.”
Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said, “Today’s announcement signals that the era of captive display of orcas will end.”
PETA has not yet commented on SeaWorld’s announcements.
Though former critics may be lauding the company’s changes, it is too early to tell if the new policies will have a significant impact on SeaWorld’s falling numbers.
Competition from other theme parks has also hurt SeaWorld. Industry analysts say the marine mammal park needs attractions that will allow it to compete with other theme parks such as Disney World.
SeaWorld, however, is listening to these complaints, too, and is working on new roller coasters.
It has not yet revealed any estimate on when the public will be able to enjoy these rides, though.
[Image by Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Images]