SeaWorld is ending its practice of killer whale breeding following years of controversy over keeping orcas in captivity.
The company announced Thursday morning the breeding program will end immediately. The company also announced a partnership with the Humane Society.
The company will also end theatrical shows and introduce “new, inspiring natural orca encounters.” The new shows will begin next year at the SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.’s San Diego park.
SeaWorld president and CEO Joel Manby said in a statement that the company introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas and is proud of its part in contributing to the human understanding of the whales.
He says the company is “reimagining” how guests will encounter orcas while providing visitors to the theme parks with “experiences that matter.”
SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said Thursday that it was a difficult decision to end the breeding program and end theatrical shows involving orcas.
But he says society’s attitudes have changed about captive orcas and SeaWorld had to move where society was going.
The company also announced a new partnership with the Humane Society of the United States.
SeaWorld is a member of the Virginia-based organization the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. President and CEO Kathleen Dezio said in a statement that SeaWorld was “a principled company” and an industry leader, but that no company could withstand the prolonged protests that have targeted SeaWorld for nearly three years.
Dezio says the film “Blackfish” spread misinformation and lies, and she said its success may boost campaigns to remove other animals from zoos, aquariums and marine parks.
She says SeaWorld has motivated millions of people to care about whales in the wild. She added: “No institution in the world has contributed more than SeaWorld to a scientific understanding of orcas.”
For her part, the director of “Blackfish” Gabriela Cowperthwaite tells The Associated Press that SeaWorld’s announcement is a defining moment for the company. She says breeding orcas and exporting whales to international parks is the heart of SeaWorld’s business model, so an immediate end to breeding is a “huge step and paradigm shift.”
In the face of Dezio’s claims that her film spread lies, Cowperthwaite counters that scientists, consumers and animal rights advocates doing independent research since the film came out reached the same conclusion, all finding that keeping killer whales in captivity is inhumane.