At long last, SeaWorld has announced that it will stop breeding killer whales in its facilities, and ultimately phase out killer whale shows for good. Animal activist groups all over America are finally breathing a sigh of relief now that they know the inhumane treatment of these majestic creatures is coming to an end.
That being said, it took years and several lawsuits for SeaWorld Entertainment to come to this decision. Just last May, the company was sued by park guests who said they never would’ve paid for tickets had they known what goes on behind closed tanks. Some of the many charges that were brought against the park include keeping whales “in a confined space, the forced separation of young whales from their mothers, the unnatural mixing of whales that do not have the same culture in small spaces, the forced breeding and inbreeding of young female whales, the routine use of pharmaceutical products to unnaturally drug the orcas, the psychological manipulation and at times food deprivation to which they are subjected, the deep rake marks on their bodies that result from incompatibility and cramped conditions, and many other life-shortening and painful experiences from which they have no escape.”
Many of these allegations came from Blackfish — the harrowing SeaWorld documentary that was released back in 2013, which revealed wrongdoings committed by the park. According to USA Today, SeaWorld’s stock and revenue took a major hit after the release of the documentary, which prompted the park to offer steep discounts and change ad campaigns. However, that didn’t do much in the wake of all the disturbing truths that were revealed. As a result, SeaWorld began putting an end to their killer whale shows back in November. And now they are beginning the process of shutting down the entire killer whale program for good.
Needless to say, animal activists everywhere are ringing the victory bell. “The decision to end its orca breeding program globally and to commit to ending the collection of exhibit animals from the wild, as well as adopting a ‘no orca’ policy should SeaWorld expand its brand into new international markets, is a monumental and important first step forward in achieving a more humane business model for the company,” the Animal Welfare Institute told The Guardian.
Even the director of Blackfish agrees SeaWorld’s decision “marks a truly meaningful change” for the future of all animals in captivity, at least in the United States. However, as the killer whales were one of its highest attended attractions, the park’s decision may also be a business-ending blow. But, that may be an opportunity to pave the way for much more compassionate interactions between whales and humans.
The last generation of killer whales belonging to SeaWorld will remain in captivity for the rest of their lives, because the park claims they would not survive in the wild. “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,” said Joel Manby, president and CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times.
However, the remaining whales will no longer be required to do circus tricks for crowds. Shows will instead focus on the whales’ “enrichment, exercise and overall health.” In return for this massive company shift, the California Coastal Commission will agree to SeaWorld’s ambitious renovation plans, which may have been the main reason for this pivotal change in the first place.