ORLANDO, Fla. — Reactions have been a mixed bag, but one thing that SeaWorld’s decision to stop its killer whale breeding program has guaranteed is a very different future for its parks.
The killer whale has become synonymous with SeaWorld since the first park opened in San Diego in the 1960s.
With Thursday’s announcement of the end of the killer whale breeding program, one thing became clear: Someday living orcas will be completely absent from all SeaWorld parks.
The company had already released plans to phase out theatrical shows involving killer whales. SeaWorld San Diego led the pack, announcing it would end killer whale shows next year.
Parks in San Antonio and Orlando will follow suit in 2019, the company said.
Instead, SeaWorld will have “new, inspiring, natural orca encounters … as part of its ongoing commitment to education, marine science research, and rescue of marine animals,” SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. President and CEO Joel Manby said.
“SeaWorld has introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas, and we are proud of our part in contributing to the human understanding of these animals,” he said. “As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will encounter these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter.”
The Humane Society of the United States praised the decision.
“SeaWorld’s commitment to end breeding of orcas is a long-held goal of many animal advocacy organizations, and we commend the company for making this game-changing commitment,” said President and CEO Wayne Pacelle. “We came together because the public has really moved on, in a lot of ways, from some of the conventional practices of SeaWorld. And I think this is a monumental announcement that SeaWorld is saying it's going to end the breeding of orcas.”
Officials said the whales will be placed on birth control and have their physical interactions monitored.
SeaWorld visitor Denise Miller wasn’t sure what the lasting effect of the move would be, but she didn’t expect it to be good.
“It’s a bad situation for Florida, for the whales, tourism,” she said. “You know, people come to Florida just to see them.
“I think that’s a big loss to Florida. I think that’s very sad.”
SeaWorld’s decisions relating to killer whales can be traced back to Tilikum, a 34-year-old orca made infamous in 2013’s “Blackfish” documentary for killing one of his trainers.
The death of the trainer, Dawn Brancheau, led to the documentary film’s expose on the parks’ alleged mistreatment of killer whales.
Her death wasn’t the only thing behind the decision, but it was a large one, Manby said.
“It’s a lot of things that have happened,” he said. “That was a very horrific moment for our company. Dawn’s death is something none of us will ever get over.”
One Orlando resident and frequent SeaWorld visitor, Brandon Anderson, lauded SeaWorld’s announcement, saying the company did well to address the public’s concerns.
“For SeaWorld to step up to the plate and recognize this, say, ‘Hey, this is something we need to address,’ certainly big props to them,” he said.
The 29 killer whales now living in SeaWorld parks, along with one waiting to be born, would not be able to survive in the wild so they will not be released, Manby said.
They will live the rest of their lives at the parks, but will no longer perform for the public after 2019.
“SeaWorld has introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas, and we are proud of our part in contributing to the human understanding of these animals,” Manby said. “As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will encounter these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter.”
Cox Media Group