SAN DIEGO – Wildlife advocates are praising SeaWorld San Diego’s decision to let Shamu retire, so to speak, but they have reservations about the park’s announcement that killer whale shows will change at the end of next year.
SeaWorld says the orcas will still be on display at the amusement park, but they won’t be doing any tricks. It’s a response to criticism over treatment of orcas in captivity that crested with the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which led to a drop in park attendance.
Marine biologist Maris Sidenstecker, co-founder and program director at Save the Whales, wants the orca exhibit closed altogether.
“Honestly, I think SeaWorld should not have orcas in captivity and should phase this out completely,” she says. “I think they should just be a rehab center for injured wildlife and animals.”
Sidenstecker says orcas swim 100 miles a day in the wild, so it’s impossible to recreate their natural habitat in captivity. She says many of the whales should be carefully reintroduced into the ocean.
Joel Manby, CEO of SeaWorld Enterprises, explained the company’s plans in an investor’s forum on Monday.
“We are listening to our guests. We’re evolving as a company, we’re always changing,” he says. “In 2017, we will launch an all-new orca experience. It’s going to be focused more on the natural setting, natural environment and also, the natural behaviors of the whale. And it will have a strong conservation message.”
In addition, Manby says a project called “Blue Ocean,” involving a massive $100 million expansion of the killer whale tanks, will not go forward in light of a recent California Coastal Commission decision to ban breeding of captive killer whales.
California Congressman Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, has said he’ll introduce a bill to prohibit trade in killer whales, block their capture in the wild and outlaw the breeding of captive orca.