For many years SeaWorld has been under intense scrutiny and has been fined because of its rampant abuse of killer whales (orcas) and the death of trainers (for comprehensive reviews please see Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity and Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish). The excellent and award-winning documentary Blackfish brought to global attention how killer whales have been and are routinely mistreated and SeaWorld has suffered because of this exposé.
In response to worldwide criticism, SeaWorld San Diego has announced that next year it will be phasing out its killer whale shows and replacing them with a more naturalistic conservation experience (you can read many reports here). According to an essay by Lori Weisberg, "The plan to gradually phase out the Shamu show comes amid efforts at both the state and federal level to clamp down on SeaWorld by ending the captive breeding of orcas, which would effectively bring to an end the parks' theatrical shows. SeaWorld has already vowed to fight a recent ruling by the California Coastal Commission to bar it from breeding its orcas as a condition of moving forward with the tank expansion projects."
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez: "Clearly, SeaWorld can move away from being a giant circus that harms animal life."
We also read in Ms. Weisberg's essay: "Today's acknowledgement by SeaWorld does not end our push to halt inhumane orca captivity and breeding practices, but it's a step in the right direction," said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. "More importantly, SeaWorld's announcement contradicts their earlier statements that the company could not be profitable unless orcas were forced to participate in these circus-like shows...Clearly, SeaWorld can move away from being a giant circus that harms animal life and still have a viable business model."
The new shows will take place "in the same watery blue prisons"
Many remain skeptical of SeaWorld San Diego's comprehensive plan and it is still not clear what other SeaWorld parks in Orlando and San Antonio are planning to do. In a very important essay by Jordan Weissman called "Bad News, Animal Lovers: SeaWorld Isn't Really Ending Its Killer Whale Show" published in Slate, Mr. Weissman writes, "What exactly will the more 'natural' show entail? For starters, don't expect to see a true-to-life replica of the Pacific Northwest or Arctic. They'll take place in the same watery blue prisons the whales are presently swimming around in (in fact, Manby says the park has already tried versions of these more 'educational' programs at night)."
Please stay tuned for more information on the fate of the fascinating and magnificent killer whales languishing at SeaWorld venues.