In a surprising move that has animal advocates celebrating, this week SeaWorld officially announced that it is going to end its breeding program for orcas. The current orcas in SeaWorld will be the last generation in captivity.
The announcement, which was made in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), marks the end of an era and a growing shift in our views on captive cetaceans and other wild animals.
More and more people are asking questions about whether keeping orcas in captivity and using them as performers is justifiable, given what we know for certain about how intelligent, far-ranging and deeply social they are. Thousands of Care2 members have signed petitions asking SeaWorld to stop keeping orcas captive.
While opposition to keeping orcas in captivity was around well before the documentary Blackfish started making waves, the film unquestionably helped bring the issue to a much wider audience.
The film has also had an undeniable impact, with ensuing boycotts, protests, lawsuits, letters from angry children, celebrity shaming, dwindling attendance, dropping stock prices and a scandal surrounding sending sending a spy to infiltrate PETA.
Lawmakers came forward to introduce state and federal legislation that would result in bans, the California Coastal Commission conditioned SeaWorld’s proposed expansion on ending breeding last year and thousands upon thousands of people wrote letters and signed petitions calling for some serious change. It looks like SeaWorld has finally accepted the writing on the wall.
“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,” Joel Manby, SeaWorld’s President and CEO, said in a statement.
SeaWorld will also not transfer any orcas to or from parks abroad and announced that it will be ending its theatrical shows. Instead it will be creating more natural environments that will benefit its current residents by focusing more on exercise and enrichment, which is expected first in San Diego and will extend to San Antonio and then Orlando in 2019.
It also pledged $50 million over the next five years to grow its rescue program and promote marine conservation. It will be partnering with the HSUS on efforts to end shark finning and the commercial killing of whales, seals and other marine mammals, in addition to protecting marine environments.
So far, the move is being applauded by many organizations that have been working toward ending captivity, including Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and AWI. The groups will still be working to bring about similar changes for dolphins, belugas and other marine mammals and will still also be pushing for retirement in sea pens, even though SeaWorld stated that’s not something it’s considering.
“This is a first, massive step forward toward a more humane future for SeaWorld,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). “I welcome these commitments from Joel Manby. He has given SeaWorld a new lease on life.”