Nearly three years after the release of the documentary Blackfish set off a devastating onslaught of criticism over the way SeaWorld parks treats orca whales in captivity, the attraction announced Thursday it is going to end the practice of breeding them in captivity.
The announcement came in a media statement sent out Tuesday in which the company's CEO acknowledged that keeping marine mammals captive for the duration of their lives (and making them create more whales) reflects an incredibly outdated mindset when it comes to what we know about these highly intelligent animals.
"SeaWorld has introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas, and we are proud of our part in contributing to the human understanding of these animals," said Joel Manby, president and chief executive officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., in a media release. "As society's understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will encounter these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter."
The announcement comes weeks after the company admitted it sent its own employees into animal rights groups to spy on them.
The park has also said it will partner with the Humane Society of the United States in an effort to educate the public on animal welfare, a partnership officials from both organizations say will be visible throughout the attraction, from "interpretive" exhibits about wildlife to more ethically sourced food on the menu.
“SeaWorld’s commitment to end breeding of orcas is a long-held goal of many animal advocacy organizations, and we commend the company for making this game-changing commitment,” said Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of HSUS in the same press release. "Today we turn a corner, working together to achieve solutions on a wide set of animal issues including sunsetting the use of orcas at existing facilities; maximizing SeaWorld’s focus on rescue, rehabilitation and advocacy for marine mammals in the wild; and sourcing food for animals and customers from humane and sustainable sources, including cage-free eggs and crate-free pork.”
In a statement emailed to CL, longtime critic of SeaWorld People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals applauded the move, but also called for more a more thoughtful approach to the way SeaWorld treats other captive species it displays.
"PETA has campaigned hard and today there is a payoff for future generations of orcas," PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk said. "For decades orcas, dolphins, beluga whales, seals and many other animals have suffered in SeaWorld confinement, and to do right by them now, SeaWorld must open the tanks to ocean sanctuaries so that these long-suffering animals may have some semblance of a life outside their prison tanks. SeaWorld has taken a step forward but more must come. PETA urges kind people everywhere to keep campaigning strong."
The current population of orcas will live out their days in the park, including Takara, who became pregnant last year.
The phasing out of the orca program is just the latest reflection of how society's views on animals are evolving, and consumers are choosing attractions that embrace empathy over entertainment; compassion over spectacle.
Last year, Ringling Brothers announced it will phase elephants, another large, highly intelligent and emotional species, out of its circus performances.