SeaWorld Calls It Quits on Orca Breeding, Promises to End Killer Whale Shows

by on March 18, 2016 · 2 comments

in Culture, Health, History, Media, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Politics, San Diego

SeaWorldBy Doug Porter

Starting off with the admission that Americans’ attitudes about orcas have changed dramatically, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby has announced –via an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times the end of the company’s controversial breeding programs and the phasing out theatrical killer whale shows at all its locations.

SeaWorld has been the target of nationwide protests over its treatment of captive orcas in recent years. Revenues and attendance began a steady decline following the release of the documentary “Blackfish,” which spotlighted the animals’ living conditions and the dangers posed to their handlers.

The company currently has 29 orcas listed in its care — seven in Orlando, five in San Antonio, eleven in San Diego and six in Loro Parque, Spain.

Breeding restrictions tied to a California Coastal Commission ruling allowing an expansion of the killer whale habitat and the declining health of Tilikum, SeaWorld’s most prolific breeder, likely also contributed to the company’s decision.

From NPR:

SeaWorld’s treatment of its killer whales, or orcas, was put in the spotlight three years ago by Blackfish, a documentary that examined the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by an orca named Tilikum. Since then, in a steady campaign on social media, critics have demanded SeaWorld end its orca breeding program.

In an agreement with the Humane Society of the United States, SeaWorld says it now will do so. In a news release, HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said, “Today’s announcement signals that the era of captive display of orcas will end.”

SeaWorld President and CEO Joel Manby said in the same news release, “As one of the largest rescue organizations in the world, we will increase our focus on rescue operations — so that the thousands of stranded marine mammals like dolphins and sea lions that cannot be released back to the wild will have a place to go.”

The director of Blackfish, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, called it “a defining moment. The fact that SeaWorld is doing away with orca breeding marks truly meaningful change.”

From the Washington Post:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said Thursday that the SeaWorld should “open the tanks to the oceans” to give the orcas “some semblance of a life outside their prison tanks.”

SeaWorld has made several recent announcements about changing long-standing procedures.

Just last month, SeaWorld said that its employees have posed as animal rights activists and vowed to stop the practice, following accusations that the company sent a worker to infiltrate a prominent animal welfare organization and incite violence among protesters.

SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby drew the line at the suggestion by some groups that orcas should be released back into the wild.

Most of our orcas were born at SeaWorld, and those that were born in the wild have been in our parks for the majority of their lives. If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die. In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild. Even the attempt to return the whale from “Free Willy,” Keiko, who was born in the wild, was a failure.

Years of weekend and holiday protests, letter writing campaigns and social media outreach led up to SeaWorld’s decision.

Mayor candidate Lori Saldaña has been active in protests at SeaWorld. Her campaign issued the following statement:

Lori Saldana official picI welcome SeaWorld Entertainment’s announcement that they will no longer breed orcas in captivity, and over time, will phase out “theatrical” shows with these marine mammals. Likewise, congratulations on developing a stronger partnership with the Humane Society, to raise awareness of threats to orcas and other ocean species around the world.

In this era of ocean plastic, dwindling habitat and threatened and disappearing marine species, SeaWorld Entertainment could help create a new model of enjoying and understanding marine animals – and the threats they face- in the natural world.

To that end- as the company transitions into a more educational format, I propose that SeaWorld partner with the City of San Diego, and develop eco-tourism and educational displays for our coastal parks, to reinforce this conservation message, and also reconsider their opposition to the coastal sanctuary proposals.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori Saldaña March 20, 2016 at 11:14 pm

For those who are curious about the difference between captivity vs. seeing whales in Baja, here’s the essay I wrote for San Diego Free Press 2 years ago: http://sandiegofreepress.org/2014/04/the-night-i-decided-to-stop-going-to-sea-world/

I was pleasantly surprised to notice it now has over 1000 likes on Facebook.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie March 21, 2016 at 8:37 am

Thank you, Lori Saldana – we just reposted that article.

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