In a landmark decision, the world’s leading theme park, entertainment and wildlife education and conservation company, SeaWorld, has announced that it will end its killer whale – or orca – breeding program as of Thursday, March 17, 2016. The orcas currently in the company’s care will be the last generation of orcas at SeaWorld.
The current orcas at SeaWorld – including one, Takara, that became pregnant last year – will remain at the company’s park habitats where they will continue to receive world-class care based on the latest advances in marine veterinary medicine, science and zoological practices.
This new initiative includes, of course, any rescue and rehabilitative needs that may arise. Park guests will be able to observe the orcas through new educational orca encounters and in viewing areas within the existing habitats.
“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. “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 reimaging how guests will encounter these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter.”
New orca educational encounters
SeaWorld will introduce new and inspiring orca encounters that are based on the orca’s natural habitats in the wild – rather than theatrical-type shows – as part of its ongoing commitment to marine research, education and rescue.
Guests will still be able to view and learn about the orcas, just not by way of the “splash sessions” of previous years. The parks will convert their current theater areas to reflect a more natural atmosphere for the whales and an educational experience for guests.
These new orca experiences will focus on orca enrichment, exercise and health. The new programs will start in SeaWorld San Diego next year. SeaWorld San Antonio will follow and then SeaWorld Orlando in 2019.
While this may come as disappointing news to some, SeaWorld’s main concern has always been with the well-being of its animals, and the company feels that these recent decisions have the animal’s best interests at heart.
The killer whale breeding program at SeaWorld, and the research that went along with it, made major contributions to the understanding of killer whale biology and reproductive physiology over the past several decades, and the company will use the valuable information they’ve learned to care for orcas at the park and in the wild in the best way possible. SeaWorld invites guests of all ages to visit SeaWorld to learn about killer whales and other marine animals.
Partnership with the Humane Society of the United States
SeaWorld also announced a new partnership with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The two companies are coming together to protect the world’s oceans and the animals that live in them. As part of this partnership, SeaWorld is committing to educating its more than 20 million annual visitors about animal welfare and conservation issues through the use of interpretive park programs. It is also committed to expanded advocacy initiatives for whales, seals and other marine animals in the wild.
“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. “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.”
The HSUS is the nation’s largest and most effective animal advocacy organization. Along with its affiliates, it provide hands-on care and services to more than 150,000 animals each year.
SeaWorld has been one of the world’s foremost zoological and animal care organizations for more than 50 years. It has inspired millions of guests to protect and appreciate animals and the natural world through personal, interactive and informative experiences.
With its 1,500 animal care professionals, SeaWorld provides world class and humane care for all of its animals. The SeaWorld company has also cared for and rehabilitated thousands of wild animals in distress and conducted a variety of educational and scientific research programs aimed at learning more about wild animals, which in turn serves to protect each individual species.
“We are pleased to join with HSUS on the significant issues facing marine mammals and their ocean homes,” said Manby. “The work done by zoological facilities like SeaWorld is critical for the protection of animals in the wild, especially marine mammals. To that end, SeaWorld has committed $50 million over the next five years to be the world’s leading marine animal rescue organization, to advocate for an end to the commercial killing of whales and seals and an end to shark finning.”
SeaWorld and HSUS will work together as advocates and educators for the ocean and its animals in the following ways:
- Fish and marine mammal protection: SeaWorld and HSUS will partner against the commercial killing of whales, seals and other marine mammals as well as ending shark finning. These initiatives are in addition to the rescue, research and resources SeaWorld already commits to protecting and saving marine mammals in the wild.
- Healthy Oceans: SeaWorld and HSUS will partner to protect coral reefs, and the marine animals that live in them, from the over exploitation of wild-caught ornamental fish.
- Sustainable Seafood: All seafood served in the park will be sustainable. The company will also offer other food choices that reflect an awareness of animal welfare, including crate-free pork, cage-free eggs and more vegetarian options.
The concept of rescue, rehab and rehabilitation has always been at the forefront of the SeaWorld company. SeaWorld has not collected an orca from the wild in nearly 40 years. The orcas at SeaWorld were either born in captivity or have spent nearly all of their lives in human care due to injuries or circumstances that have deemed them unable to return to the wild. These orcas could not survive in the ocean where there are environmental dangers such as pollution and man-made threats.
According to its Facebook page, SeaWorld’s Blue World Project, which was announced in 2014, will not continue as planned. It’s always possible that this project could become adapted to the new orca encounter plans. We’ll have to wait and see how it all pans out.
To learn more about the orca educational encounters planned for SeaWorld Parks, please visit seaworldcares.com.