A mere two days after the death of its most famous headline-grabbing killer whale, Tilikum, SeaWorld San Diego will be bringing its killer whale shows to an end. On Sunday, the company put on the final performance of its giant black and white orcas.
The final One Ocean show at SeaWorld took place today. Their most famous killer whale Tilikum died on Friday at the age of 36 and according to park officials, he had been battling a lung infection at the time of his death. It is believed that with the constant pressure from animal rights advocates, decreasing attendance over the last few years, and now Tilikum’s death, SeaWorld San Diego had little choice but to end its traditional Shamu shows. The shows took place in Shamu Stadium and consisted of killer whales performing jumps, spins, and tail-slapping of the water in shows that were once known to draw huge crowds.
I attempted to leave a sign for Tilikum at the entrance to SeaWorld today along with 33 red roses, one for each year he spent in captivity. pic.twitter.com/fpSzdDCwxF— Leilani Münter (@LeilaniMunter) January 8, 2017
The death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, killed at the Orlando Park by Tilikum, brought a different kind of attention to the killer whale shows. The negativity did not end there, though, and the fame of the nearly six-ton orca increased even more after the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish which featured Tilikum and highly critical of the way SeaWorld treated their captive whales. After the drowning death and the film, SeaWorld came under a torrent of criticism which led to plunging stock shares, revenues, and attendance.
The San Diego Union-Tribune highlighted that the unending outcries led to SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby making a 2015 announcement that they would cease the iconic Shamu shows with the traditional tricks and stunts and would instead be showcasing a more informative show set in a more natural environment. In 2016, SeaWorld also announced that they would be putting an end its orca breeding program entirely.
The end of the shows and the end of the breeding program did not mean that SeaWorld was finished with orcas at their theme parks, however. The company is poised to unveil its new killer whale show in the summer of 2017 which will be called Orca Encounter and continues to be described as an educational experience. Meant to highlight how killer whales navigate, eat and communicate, critics are not convinced that this will change the conditions the orcas are forced to endure at the theme park. According to NPR, it has been pointed out that the new program will still require the whales to undergo training and have trainers give the orcas cues.
Al Garver, SeaWorld’s former orca trainer and vice president of zoological operations, advised the media that persons visiting the park will still have the opportunity to see the killer whales leap out of the water. Naturally, the graceful leaps and dives into the show pool, the jumping and rotating onto their sides, and the slapping of tails on the surface of the water as a means of communicating will not simply disappear.
“We want to be able to demonstrate behaviors people would see in the wild with the killer whales and their abilities as a top predator in the sea. The vast majority of behaviors people have seen in our shows will be very suitable for demonstrating that.”
SeaWorld San Diego has 11 orcas remaining at the theme park ranging from age 2- to 52-years-old. About half of the whales are below the age of 20 and will still very much be put to work. The most ardent critics are still expressing disappointment that SeaWorld is not retiring the orcas to seaside sanctuaries, some look forward to the changes with hope.
The killer whale shows at SeaWorld Orlando and San Antonio are also expected to come to an end by 2019.
[Featured Image by Gerardo Mora/ Getty Images]