SeaWorld has confirmed it will cease breeding killer whales and using them in shows.
The whales, known as orcas, currently in SeaWorld’s care will be the last generation to be so and all breeding has ended today.
The documentary Blackfish, released in 2013, led to protests and to an attempt in California to ban orca performances and phase out the whales’ captivity.
The film suggested captivity at SeaWorld was damaging to the orcas.
SeaWorld will introduce new, “natural” orca encounters as part of an “ongoing commitment to education, marine science research and rescue of marine animals”.
The company said the programmes will focus on orca enrichment, exercise, and overall health.
This change will start in its San Diego park next year, followed by San Antonio and then Orlando in 2019.
SeaWorld also announced a partnership with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) whereby the company will commit to educating its 20 million annual visitors on animal welfare and conservation issues.
President and chief executive of SeaWorld Entertainment, Joel Manby, said: “SeaWorld has introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas, and we are proud of our part in contributing to the human understanding of these animals.
“As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it.
“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.”
President and chief executive of HSUS, Wayne Pacelle, added: “SeaWorld’s commitment to end breeding of orcas is a long-held goal of many animal advocacy organisations, and we commend the company for making this game-changing commitment.”
Manby said SeaWorld has committed $50 million over the next five years to advocate for an end to the commercial killing of whales and seals and an end to shark finning.
The current orcas at SeaWorld will stay at the company’s parks.
Guests will be able to observe them through the new educational encounters and in viewing areas.
The orcas at SeaWorld were either born there or have spent almost their entire lives in human care.
SeaWorld said they could not survive in oceans “that include environmental concerns such as pollution and other man-made threats”.
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