SeaWorld Wakes Up, Stops Breeding Orca Whales
SeaWorld is finally letting go of its golden goose. The multi-million dollar marine park will cease captive breeding–the current generation of orca whales in confinement will be the last. This change will gradually take place for all three SeaWorld parks in San Diego, San Antonio, and Orlando. In the same announcement, they announced a new partnership with the Humane Society.
— SeaWorld (@SeaWorld) March 17, 2016
We’d like to think that ongoing protests on social media and the moving documentary, Blackfish, caused this shift in SeaWorld’s gears. Perhaps it’s the severe decrease in the park’s traffic, or the dozens of partnerships that abandoned the organization after Blackfish caught our attention. Maybe it’s the result of the health status of Tilikum, SeaWorld’s prized orca whale and focus of Blackfish. He developed a drug-resistant bacterial lung infection that’s been progressing. After 33 years in captivity, he’s dying.
The orca whales that are currently in captivity will stay in SeaWorld’s care until they die. Even if there were a chance that the remaining orcas could be released, the chances of those animals surviving in the wild today would be slim to none.
“Some critics want us to go even further; they want us to ‘set free’ the orcas currently in our care. But that’s not a wise option,” explained Joel Manby, CEO of SeaWorld. “Most of our orcas were born at SeaWorld, and those that were born in the wild have been in our parks for the majority of their lives. If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die. In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild. Even the attempt to return the whale from ‘Free Willy,’ Keiko, who was born in the wild, was a failure.”
SeaWorld is playing a positive spin on their “big changes,” but it’s hard to not feel grim about it. The park is going to phase out theatrical orca shows and introduce educational experiences with the animals in a pool similar to the orca’s natural environment. Considering the orcas that were born at SeaWorld have only ever known a pool tank, adding a wildlife theme for viewer’s education seems kind of messed up.
But this is the move SeaWorld needed in order to stay afloat in the future, and whether you admit it or not, most of us were just as blind to the effects it had on the animals. If you’re a millennial, you were probably lucky enough to have seen Shamu before Blackfish. The arena would pound with Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” as the one-ton mammals slid onto the platform. The crowd went wild. We were all ignorant.
Lead image by Kathryn Chadason. Additional imagery via The Verge.
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