SeaWorld plans new, bigger killer whale environments



ORLANDO, Fla. - SeaWorld announced Friday it will build new, larger environments for killer whales at its theme parks, and will fund additional research on the animals, along with programs to protect ocean health and whales in the wild.
Business for the Orlando company has been hurt by negative publicity surrounding its treatment of killer whales.

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. will build a tank with 10 million gallons of water at its San Diego park, almost twice the size of the current tank. The company said the new environment wills be more stimulating for the whales. It will open to the public in 2018. SeaWorld has similar plans for its Orlando and San Antonio locations.

"For 50 years, SeaWorld has transformed how the world views marine life. The unprecedented access to marine mammals that our parks provide has increased our knowledge of the ocean and inspired generations," said Jim Atchison, chief executive officer and president of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. "Our new killer whale homes and research initiatives have just as bold a vision: to advance global understanding of these animals, to educate, and to inspire conservation efforts to protect killer whales in the wild."

The company also pledged $10 million for killer whale research as well as a multimillion-dollar partnership focused on ocean health.

But despite the company's initiative to build the exhibits and pledging $10 million in matching funds for killer whale research, many whale activists believe the projects only come because of backlash from animal rights groups, the Black Fish documentary and several musical acts canceling their performances at their parks. 

WFTV reporter Roy Ramos asked the Orlando park president, Terry Prather, if the exhibits were a result of the backlash.

"There is little that we can say to change their beliefs.  They have a belief and they are standing behind that.  We believe in what we do and we are proud of what we do," Prather said.

The new environment will be named Blue World.

Ramos asked University of Central Florida economics professor Sean Snaith what he thought prompted the SeaWorld announcement.

"Certainly the public relations backlash from the Blackfish documentary probably was responsible in part for the results that we saw released today, as far as SeawWorld's financials are concerned," said Snaith.

According to Snaith change is what SeaWorld needs, especially when it means investing in your main attraction.

"New experiences, new exhibits, new attractions are really all part of the formula for success," said Snaith.