SeaWorld to Put an End to Breeding Captive Orca Whales Amid Controversy

Photo courtesy Robert Pittman, Wikipedia

SeaWorld and the Humane Society of the United States officially made a joint statement that will put an end to breeding captive orca whales.

Instead of continuing with their once-iconic “Shamu” shows, all three of SeaWorld’s attractions in San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando will replace them with presentations that focus on the whale’s natural environment, and will neither send or receive orca whales to foreign parks. SeaWorld will end all orca shows in their entertainment parks by 2019.

Over the past several years, SeaWorld’s visitor numbers have drastically decreased and lawsuits have been filed against the business. Additionally, the stock price of the publicly-traded company has dropped by more than half in the past three years, according to NPR.

General public unhappiness with SeaWorld’s inhumane orca practices, which placed the parks under intense scrutiny, rose dramatically with the release of filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary “Blackfish.”

According to journalist David Kirby, in his article titled “SeaWorld To End Captive Breeding of Killer Whales, Orca Shows,” Seaworld will now invest $50 million to raise awareness on the rehabilitation of marine animals in distress and further educate the public on the increasing threats to marine life. In addition, part of the money will also be used for advocacy campaigns to end seal hunting and commercial whaling. 

“Blackfish” focuses on the cruel treatment of a killer whale named Tilikum, who has taken the lives of several people while in captivity. The film was released at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and was a Sundance Grand Jury Nominee. Cowperthwaite found her inspiration to make this film by researching the story of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau’s killing in 2010. Cowperthwaite felt the overwhelming need to answer her own question, “Why would such an intelligent mammal do something so morbidly wrong?”

Cowperthwaite revealed to The Guardian that she could not have imagined the effect her documentary would have on SeaWorld, despite the film’s effectiveness in changing the way people view the entertainment park company. She believes SeaWorld’s announcement marks a truly meaningful change in the industry:  

"I'm a mother who used to take her kids to SeaWorld. I just asked a question, and that question was, 'Why did a top-level SeaWorld trainer come to be killed by a killer whale?' Very few people see documentaries anyway — I never imagined there would be a sea change. I think it struck a nerve … and I think this resonated with children. I call kids these days the ‘I-can't-believe-we-used-to-do-that’ generation. They're the ones who decide where families go on vacation,” said Cowperthwaite in an interview with ABC News. 

According to a statement made by the Animal Welfare Institute the Washington Post, the announcement is a monumental first step to achieving a more humane business model for the company.