Due to public outrage and dwindling attendance, SeaWorld executives announced on Monday that the company plans to phase out the killer whale shows at its San Diego theme park next year. Although animal rights activists have called for an end to orca captivity and animal cruelty, SeaWorld’s CEO asserted that the killer whale shows at its Orlando and San Antonio theme parks would continue.
After the California Coastal Commission recently banned SeaWorld from breeding orcas in captivity, California Rep. Adam Schiff announced plans to introduce federal legislation to prohibit the breeding of captive orcas, end the capture of wild orcas, and stop the import and export of the killer whales. In response, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby announced on Monday plans to redesign its orca experience by converting the killer whale shows into an informative and “more natural” setting.
“Today’s acknowledgment by SeaWorld does not end our push to halt inhumane orca captivity and breeding practices, but it’s a step in the right direction,” San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez stated on Monday. “More importantly, SeaWorld’s announcement contradicts their earlier statements that the company could not be profitable unless orcas were forced to participate in these circus-like shows… Clearly, SeaWorld can move away from being a giant circus that harms animal life and still have a viable business model.”
Instead of addressing the physical and psychological damage caused by holding orcas in captivity or separating killer whale mothers from their calves, Manby held off on funding a $100 million tank expansion project while appealing the California Coastal Commission’s recent decision.
“We know, with the regulatory environment out there with orcas and what’s happened in California with the reputation, we’d be foolish if we didn’t look at options,” Manby said. “We’re not comfortable putting $100 million into a market when there are regulatory questions. Until that whole issue settles, then we’ll make a decision at that time.”
Although SeaWorld’s stocks have fallen flat and attendance has sharply dropped, Manby also announced that SeaWorld has partnered with Evans Hotels to build a resort at its San Diego theme park. The day after former CEO James Atchison announced his resignation last December, SeaWorld fired 311 employees in a company-wide restructuring as Atchison stepped down with a pay package of over $2.4 million.
A day before Manby’s announcement, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) presented former senior SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove with PETA’s Courage of Conviction Award for whistle-blowing and exposing SeaWorld’s mistreatment of captive orcas. Appearing on The Daily Show and the 2013 documentary Blackfish, Hargrove also testified before the California State Assembly last year calling attention to the self-inflicted wounds, regurgitation, and collapsed dorsal fins of SeaWorld’s captive orcas.
“John Hargrove fulfilled his childhood dream to work at SeaWorld, only to realize how devastating captivity is too far-ranging orcas,” said PETA Senior Vice President Dan Mathews on Sunday. “PETA is recognizing John for kicking off the global awareness campaign that has opened people’s eyes, decimated attendance at SeaWorld, and cost the park bookings and sponsors ranging from Southwest Airlines to Taco Bell.”
Instead of ending all killer whale shows, SeaWorld only intends to phase out the performances in its San Diego theme park because of current state regulations. Although PETA has called for the animals to be returned to the ocean in large coastal sea pens for rehabilitation, SeaWorld refuses to consider the proposal. SeaWorld’s senior management has once again proved that they have no concern for the physical health and psychological wellbeing of their captive animals.