Whale shows will be phased-out, but the theme park may continue controversial captive breeding.
News reports of injured Sea World animal trainers and the release of a documentary film exposing the animal park’s abuses have brought widespread attention to issues around captive marine mammals. Now the famed park is responding with a major change in its approach to animal entertainment.
Next year will be Sea World’s last in presenting theatrical whale shows, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. The announcement earlier this week is the latest in a series of efforts Sea World is taking to restore its reputation and revive its business amid declining attendance.
The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” exposed alleged animal cruelty and dangers to trainers at Sea World’s theme parks. The film was shown nationwide in theaters and aired multiple times on CNN. A representative of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals noted that ending the Sea World whale trick shows was inevitable, but stressed that the company should do more, by ending its captive breeding program and putting more resources into developing marine mammal sea sanctuaries.
In place of whale tricks, the theme park will offer educational presentations about whale conservation and biology, presented in more natural settings. A park spokesman had few details about the new orca shows, but noted that the change was not an attempt to mollify criticism, but was an effort to respond to comments from visitors at the company’s California locations.
Attendance at the San Diego park has been down by 17 percent, and the company had been planning to expand its theatrical whale shows, with a $100 million investment in new tanks. The new plans mean that up to one half of the $100 million will now be used for the new educational programming.
Both state and federal authorities have recently taken aim at Sea World, with some legislators suggesting they will introduce rules banning breeding of captive orcas. The California Coastal Commission recently ruled Sea World can expand its whale tanks on the condition that it agrees to no longer breed whales, but the company says it is fighting the new provision.