The nearly 30 orcas that currently call SeaWorld parks home will be the last generation of whales to do so after park officials announced today that it was ceasing the breeding of orcas at its parks and phasing out its live orca shows.
The announcement comes after months of exchanges with the California Coastal Commission that led to the park filing suit against the state last December for a decision handed down by the commission earlier in the year. The hearing held in Long Beach last October that resulted in the commission voting to bar the company from breeding the whales in captivity in exchange for allowing it to expand its tanks that house the Killer Whales drew large crowds of protestors, which required the commission to move the site of the meeting to the convention center to accommodate them.
The lawsuit, filed in December, stated that the Coastal Commission was out of bounds with its adding of the “no breeding” stipulation when it voted to approve the tank expansion at SeaWorld. It noted that the orcas were not part of the marine environment because all care, breeding and transportation of the animals occurred on shore and was outside of the commission’s jurisdiction.
However, with today’s decision the company backed off that challenge and even included an announcement that it would be phasing out its orca shows.
“SeaWorld takes seriously its responsibility to preserve marine wildlife,” SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said in a statement. “As one of the largest rescue organizations in the world, we will increase our focus on rescue operations—so that the thousands of stranded marine mammals like dolphins and sea lions that cannot be released back to the wild will have a place to go.”
The announcement was praised by animal rights activists that have pushed for the park to cease its practice of breeding the animals in captivity. Longtime adversaries SeaWorld and HSUS will now form a partnership that will include SeaWorld investing $50 million over five years to help rescue animals and fight against shark finning and commercial whaling.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States said that the new policies, which the HSUS collaborated with SeaWorld on, are major steps forward in trying to adapt to concerns over animal welfare.
“These two organizations have been long-time adversaries, but we’re excited now to see the company transforming its operations for the better on animal welfare,” Pacelle said in statement. “Today’s announcement signals that the era of captive display of orcas will end and that SeaWorld will redouble its work around rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals in crisis and partner with us to tackle global threats to marine creatures.”