In an L.A. Times op-ed, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment’s president and CEO Joel Manby announced today that SeaWorld is ending its orca-breeding program this year. “And because SeaWorld hasn’t collected an orca from the wild in almost four decades, this will be the last generation of orcas in SeaWorld’s care,” writes Manby. “We are also phasing out our theatrical orca whale shows.”
Manby cites the “growing number of people” who are against orca captivity without specifying its catalyst, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s 2013 documentary Blackfish, which set off a movement and now can be considered The Thin Blue Line for orcas. SeaWorld initially pushed back hard against Blackfish, sending out an email blast refuting several of the film’s assertions around the time of its release. Subsequently, the park saw its profits collapse—they declined by 84 percent last year (income in the second quarter dropped from $37.4m in 2014 to $5.8m in 2015). At the time of that announcement, Manby, who joined the company in April 2015, said he’d lay out his vision for the future of the company that November. On November 9, 2015, SeaWorld San Deigo announced an end to its orca show. At the time, SeaWorld also vowed to fight a California Coastal Commission ruling to ban its orca breeding program. It would appear that SeaWorld has stopped fighting.
Manby points out that it was SeaWorld sowed seeds of compassion by allowing humans to experience orcas up close—prior to its 1964 opening, killer whales were “feared, hated and even hunted.” (This fact is corroborated by Blackfish.) So in other words, without SeaWorld, humans wouldn’t care enough about orcas to want them out of SeaWorld. What SeaWorld did for orca compassion, Blackfish did for orca liberation. We finally understand the value of leaving orcas the fuck alone and allowing them to live in their natural habitats, and it only took 50 years, lots of marine-mammal misery, and the deaths of several humans. Nice.
Manby’s op-ed lays out a multi-pronged plan to restore the public’s goodwill-slash-be nice to animals. This includes partnering with the Humane Society of the United States to “work against commercial whaling and seal hunts, shark finning and ocean pollution,” increasing its rescue program, and raising “awareness of animal welfare, offering humane food options and serving only sustainable seafood.” The killer whales at SeaWorld parks will remain in captivity. “If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die,” writes Mamby. “In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild.”
This news has been received warmly by people who really care about orcas. The Dodo quotes the Animal Welfare Institute’s Dr. Naomi Rose as saying, “This is a first, massive step forward toward a more humane future for SeaWorld. I welcome these commitments from Joel Manby. He has given SeaWorld a new lease on life.” Even the notoriously cranky PETA had reasonably positive things to say:
#SeaWorld must open tanks to the oceans to allow the orcas it now holds captive to have some semblance of a life outside their prison tanks— PETA (@peta) March 17, 2016
Our Campaign wins Round 1. #SeaWorld has taken a step forward but more must come. We urge kind people everywhere to keep campaigning strong!— PETA (@peta) March 17, 2016
All of that said, don’t go to SeaWorld ever.