SeaWorld is getting rid of one of its most famous animal attractions: its habitat of orcas. NPR reports that the theme park’s parent company, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Inc., announced today that they will stop breeding captive killer whales at the SeaWorld parks in San Diego, San Antonio, Texas, and Orlando, Florida. They also plan to discontinue their popular theatrical orca show.
The decision to end the orca program arose from an agreement between the Humane Society of the United States and SeaWorld. For years, animal rights activists have protested the animals’ living conditions and treatment. In 2013, the documentary Blackfish drew additional attention to the animals’ plight. According to The Washington Post, the ensuing controversy caused the parks' CEO to resign and its stock prices to drop.
The company explained the move in an online statement. “Why the big news? SeaWorld has been listening and we’re changing,” they wrote. “Society is changing and we’re changing with it. SeaWorld is finding new ways to continue to deliver on our purpose to inspire all our guests to take action to protect wild animals and wild places.”
These changes weren’t made overnight. Last year, SeaWorld discontinued theatrical orca shows at its San Diego outpost, and the California Coastal Commission ruled that the park discontinue its orca breeding program. Now, these policies officially apply to all of SeaWorld’s parks.
USA Today writes that the San Diego SeaWorld will hold its last orca show in 2017, while the San Antonio and Orlando locations will end them by 2019. In the meantime, SeaWorld plans to focus its energy—and money—on rescuing animals and fighting commercial fishing.
The park won’t get rid of its current generation of orcas, but they will be the last of their species to remain at SeaWorld, SeaWorld’s new CEO, Joe Manby, wrote in an editorial for The Los Angeles Times. Since these orcas have remained in human care for years, they would “likely die” if they were released into the ocean, Manby wrote, so they will live the remainder of their years in tanks, where they will be fed and provided with veterinary care. Park visitors will be able to view them through “new, inspiring, natural orca encounters,” according to the company’s website.
So far, SeaWorld’s shift in priorities is good for orcas—and good for business. According to The Orlando Sentinel, the company’s stock was up more than 4 percent this morning.