Animals rights groups have welcomed a radical decision by Orlando-based SeaWorld to stop breeding killer whales and end its signature theatrical shows starring the huge mammals. The killer whales currently at its US parks will be the last.
Australia’s Sea World on the Gold Coast does not breed, keep or exhibit killer whales. Neither are they held in captivity anywhere else in Australia. In the US, however, the signature ‘Shamu’ entertainment shows featuring killer whales, also known as orcas, are a major part of the SeaWorld experience.
The 2013 documentary Blackfish, which focused on the sufferings of orcas in captivity, helped swing public opinion away from killer whale shows.
In the US, SeaWorld operates in Orange County, Florida; San Diego, California and San Antonio, Texas.
Joel Manby, president and chief executive of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc, put out the following statement on Friday:
“Times have changed, and we are changing with them. The killer whales currently in our care will be the last generation of killer whales at SeaWorld. The company will end all orca breeding as of today.
“We always put the health and well-being of the whales first. We have the leading veterinary and scientific experts in the country to advise us on how to do this in a way that puts the health and well-being of the whales first.
“We love our whales and so do many of our visitors and this is about doing the best thing for our whales, our guests, our employees and SeaWorld.
“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. We’ve helped make orcas among the most beloved marine mammals on the planet.
“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 experience these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter.”
SeaWorld says its new orca encounter will take its killer whale experiences in a “new direction”.
“We will introduce new, inspiring, natural orca encounters rather than theatrical shows, as part of our ongoing commitment to education, marine science research and the rescue of marine animals.”
SeaWorld has not collected an orca from the wild in almost 40 years, and the vast majority of its orcas were born under human care.
“These orcas have never lived in the wild and could not survive in oceans that include environmental concerns such as pollution and other man-made threats,” SeaWorld said.
Not only will SeaWorld halt its orca breeding program, it will invest USD 50 million (AUD 65 million) to push for an end to commercial whaling and seal hunting.
“Huge respect to @blackfishmovie for putting orca captivity at @SeaWorld on the agenda,” Greenpeace UK Oceans said on Twitter.
Responsible Travel and the World Cetacean Alliance welcomed SeaWorld’s move.
“In just one day it has gone from public enemy number one to a potential leader for change,” Dylan Walker of World Cetacean Alliance declared.
“That’s a game changer not just for SeaWorld but for the industry worldwide. We hope to see the dolphinarium industry around the world follow suit.”
Sea World on the Gold Coast does not exhibit, keep or deal in orcas. It is very proud of its world class exhibits for dolphins, including some of the largest filtered natural sandy bottom lagoon systems in the world.
“We have a strong reputation for caring for marine animals, along with an exemplary record of animal care, research and rescue accomplishments,” Sea World Gold Coast states.
It says that on average, Bottlenose Dolphins can live to 23 to 30 years of age in the wild dependent on their environmental threats, “but at Sea World we have had some Dolphins live to be beyond 50 years of age.
“This long life can be attributed to excellent husbandry, veterinary care, world class facilities and a lack of predators, all leading to longevity. The health and wellbeing of our animals is of the upmost priority. Sea World has rescued, rehabilitated and released many marine creatures over its years of operation through the park’s not-for-profit research and rescue foundation.
“The majority of our dolphins have been born at Sea World as part of our managed breeding program which has been in place for many years. Some animals are third generation and others were transferred to Sea World many years ago when other facilities in Australia and New Guinea closed.”
Written by Peter Needham