SeaWorld announced today that it will stop breeding captive orcas, commonly known as killer whales, marking a major shift for the 57-year-old company. In a statement released Thursday, SeaWorld said that the 24 orcas currently under its care will be last generation of the animals at its three US theme parks, adding that it will replace its flagship theatric shows with more "natural orca encounters."
The announcement comes after SeaWorld San Diego announced in November that it would phase out its killer whale shows by 2017, amid growing criticism from animal welfare groups. The company's treatment of killer whales gained broader attention following the 2013 release of Blackfish, a documentary that linked the orcas' captivity to their increased aggression. The film focused on an orca named Tilikum, which killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
"As society's understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it."
"As society's understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it," SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said in a statement. "By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will encounter these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter."
SeaWorld says that the theatric shows will be phased out at its San Diego park next year, followed by San Antonio and Orlando in 2019. The company also announced a partnership with the Humane Society of the United States, an animal advocacy group, to bolster conservation efforts.
The decision to end orca breeding also resolves a legal dispute between SeaWorld and the California Coastal Commission, a state regulatory body. Last year, the commission approved a plan to expand the orca enclosure at SeaWorld's San Diego park, but only on the condition that the company end all orca breeding. SeaWorld filed a lawsuit challenging the requirement in December.