SeaWorld has announced that it will end its controversial orca breeding programme. The current generation of 23 orcas living in the three US SeaWorld theme parks will be the last.
Back in 2013, the documentary Blackfish brought SeaWorld’s orcas into the public eye. This, combined with stories about captive orcas suffering ill health, has made people sympathetic to the marine mammals and has raised questions about the ethics of keeping them captivity. Following the documentary’s release, visitor numbers to SeaWorld have plummeted.
“For some time, SeaWorld has faced a paradox,” said SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby. “Customers visit our marine parks, in part, to watch orcas. But a growing number of people don't think orcas belong in human care.”
SeaWorld has not taken orcas from the wild for nearly 40 years, and the ones currently living in the parks were either bred in captivity or have spent the vast majority of their lives in the care of humans. According to SeaWorld, these animals would not survive in the wild and will live out the remainder of their lives in the theme parks.
The company has also said that it will phase out the theatrical orca shows that are synonymous with SeaWorld. In their place, there will be “natural orca encounters” that focus on the behaviour of the animals.
“This is a first, massive step forward toward a more humane future for SeaWorld,” said Dr Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute and formerly with the Humane Society of the United States. “I welcome these commitments from Joel Manby. He has given SeaWorld a new lease on life.”