SeaWorld CEO Says Company Is ‘Trying To Change’

SeaWorld’s CEO said that ending its controversial orca breeding program was the “most difficult” decision he has made.

A severe decrease in attendance by younger visitors had influenced the choice, Joel Manby said.

He admitted in an exclusive interview with Attraction Magazine that SeaWorld is now “trying to change”.

Manby, who was appointed CEO in 2015, faced a difficult choice: end the iconic killer whale shows, or risk eventual loss of an audience.

With stocks plummeting and attendance at an all-time low, Manby was dealing with the after-effects of the film, Blackfish. The documentary revealed insights into the drowning of trainer Dawn Brancheau by the male orca, Tilikum, as well as revealing the suffering of whales in captivity.

The backlash of the film has resulted in massive public outcry to release the whales to a sea sanctuary.

SeaWorld, which first opened its doors 57 years ago, has depended on its killer whales as the main attraction and its iconic brand.

But due mainly to public outcry, SeaWorld announced in March that it would be ending its orca breeding program, effective immediately, with its current generation of whales to be its last. The announcement came with the assertion that the whale theatrical show will also be phased out, to be replaced with something “more natural.”

The Independent reported that Manby talked about how tough that move was.

“Making this kind of decision shows the people we are listening and we are trying to change. We get it – having animals this magnificent and this large in a captive environment is a tough sell for us over the long term.

“We listened to public opinion and looked at what our research told us. It was an incredibly difficult decision. I think the most difficult decision I’ve ever been involved with in a business.”

“I did not think this was something we were going to have to do. I thought coming in, as long as we got the truth out about the company, we would be ok. Our research was quite pervasive and our millennial audience showed even worse data – those are our future customers.:

This week SeaWorld dropped a lawsuit against the California Coastal Commission, which was challenging a breeding ban on killer whales in the state. Manby added that SeaWorld’s Middle East expansion would be its first park not to include any killer whales.

“We all have to do a better job, SeaWorld included. There is a false notion out there, and I think a very dangerous one, that all animals held under human care is always a bad thing. That is just not true. Rescue alone is a reason for our facilities and our unbelievable zoological community to exist.”

“SeaWorld is the largest rescue organisation in the US and we want to be the largest marine animal rescue organisation in the world. Without our facilities, hundreds of dolphins, thousands of sea lions, manatees and birds, would die every year.”

Most recently, a critically ill pygmy killer whale that beached herself off the west coast has been moved to SeaWorld Orlando’s rescue facility. The 255-pound female whale appears to have injured herself through a jagged oyster bed before being beached. She has suffered dehydration and is being fed fluids and antibiotics, according to WRAL.

Manby said that SeaWorld’s rescue operation is controlled by the government.

“They call us and we do it – mostly on our dime, almost all on our dime. That alone is a reason to have zoological organisations, not to mention crucial species preservation for the future. I do believe society will begin to understand that but this notion that captivity is a bad thing is seemingly popping its head up more than it used to and it needs to be addressed.”

Manby said that ending the orca breeding program was the right choice.

“The data shows that we’ve made the right call. There’s no decision like this where you’re going to please everybody but I think that as SeaWorld continues to evolve as a company, 50 years from now you’re going to look back – hopefully a lot sooner than that – but society will look back and say it was definitely the right choice.”

USA Olympic water polo team captain Tony Azevedo, who is competing at Rio, has created a new ad for PETA. In the ad, Azevedo says orcas “need the freedom to play.”

There was no word from Manby on whether Tilikum and other whales will be released to a sea sanctuary.

[Image via Jan Daly/Shutterstock]