In an op-ed published this morning in the Los Angeles Times, SeaWorld announced an end to its controversial orca breeding program.
“This will be the last generation of orcas at SeaWorld,” CEO Joel Manby said in a video.
SeaWorld had previously announced intentions to phase out its live orca shows, so the decision comes as no surprise. Growing disapproval from the public had been putting increasing pressure on SeaWorld to end its breeding program.
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In November, California congressman Adam Schliff introduced the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement Act, a proposed bill that would phase out orca captivity entirely.
In response to this morning’s announcement, Schliff told the BBC, "These changes are something that advocates have been urging for years and I think SeaWorld will find that visitors will reward their actions with a renewed interest in the parks."
All 29 orcas currently held in SeaWorld parks will continue to live out their lives in these facilities. The life expectancy of an orca is 30 years for males, and 50 years for females, but orcas have been known to live up to 90 years in the wild.
In the op-ed, SeaWorld explains that the animals won’t be released into the wild because they would likely die. SeaWorld has not captured a live orca in almost 40 years, so most of their animals were born in captivity. Those that weren’t have spent most of their lives under human care.
“No orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild,” Manby writes.
But orcas will continue to be displayed to a paying audience — just in a different fashion.
SeaWorld will be phasing out theatrical shows with the animals, and instead having the orcas participate in a new kind of experience that SeaWorld is calling “inspiring” and “educational.”
In addition to these changes, SeaWorld will be pairing up with the Humane Society to advocate for animal protection and conservation.
“Wild animals and wild places will continue to disappear… unless humans awaken and take action,” Manby writes.
Partnered with the Humane Society, SeaWorld will conduct one of the world’s largest rescue missions, taking in stranded marine mammals that are unfit to be released back into the wild.
Orcas have been central to SeaWorld’s image since it first opened in San Diego in 1960s. At that time, orcas were known more commonly as killer whales and were feared by the public. Ironically, SeaWorld was instrumental in changing public opinion and bringing orca conservation into the spotlight.
Stocks in SeaWorld are trading up more than 6 percent this morning, in light of the announcement.