SeaWorld to Stop Breeding Killer Whales, Phase Out Orca Shows


SeaWorld Entertainment said Thursday that the killer whales currently living at its facilities will be its last as it will stop breeding them immediately and phase out theatrical orca shows.

The move comes nearly three years after SeaWorld came under pressure for its treatment of killer whales and their trainers in the documentary Blackfish. The company had already announced plans to end killer whale shows at its San Diego park following regulatory scrutiny in California.

SeaWorld will turn its attention to “new, inspiring, natural orca encounters” with educational programs emphasizing enrichment, exercise and health with its remaining killer whales, CEO Joel Manby said on a conference call.

The orca shows will end in San Diego in 2017, while the San Antonio and Orlando parks will end the shows by 2019.

The company has been under heavy pressure from animal-rights activists, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other watchdog groups.

“Today marks a bold and impactful shift for our company,” Manby said. “The killer whale issue is a growing reason why many people don’t visit SeaWorld and this is about doing the best thing for our orcas, our guests, our ambassadors and our company.”

The company, which said it has not collected any orcas from the wild in more than 40 years, said its orcas will live out their lives at SeaWorld. That includes one pregnant orca named Takara.

Despite the strategic shift, orcas are likely to live at SeaWorld for many years to come. The average male orca life span is about 30 years, though they can live up to 60, while the average female orca life span is 50 years, and they can live up to 100, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But a 1995 study showed that the mortality rate for orcas living in captivity is 2.5 times higher than orcas living in the wild, according to the Animal Welfare Institute.

“They will continue to receive the highest-quality care based on the latest advances in marine veterinary medicine, science, and zoological best practices,” SeaWorld said in a statement. “Guests will be able to observe these orcas through the new educational encounters and in viewing areas within the existing habitats.”

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SOURCE: USA Today, Nathan Bomey