Soon, guests will no longer be able to see SeaWorld San Diego’s iconic orca show.
In a response to ongoing and intense public outcry, as well as regulatory pressure, the marine based amusement park will retire its theatrical orca show in 2016, replacing it with a “new orca experience” the next year that is being billed as showing a more “natural” orca setting. Fans will likely be able to see the animals in a habitat more akin to what they would experience in the wild, and the well known tricks and commands will be hung up for good.
This is not a universal change for the chain of amusement parks, however. Of the 11 parks that SeaWorld own and operates stretching across the United States, which all feature the same killer whale show, the San Diego location is the only one in line for the big changeup. Guests at any other SeaWorld location will still experience the same music, tricks, and human-orca interaction that has made the show so popular.
Of course the reason for the shift in the treatment of the animals comes from the intense scrutiny that has befallen the company. The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” took an unapologetic look at the park’s treatment of orcas, especially in their Shamu shows. The film was also highly critical of the parks methods of orca captivity, and the dangers employees of the parks faced working with such animals. This scrutiny, leading to a decline in attendance and revenue, caused the departure of former SeaWorld’s former CEO in the December of 2015.
Pressure is also hitting SeaWorld from the official side, as lawmakers, particularly in California, have stepped in. In California, the state has allowed the park to expand its orca habitat, but has put an end to the captive breeding of the animals. The decision to end captive breeding is one that SeaWorld plans to challenge in court, as it could eventually lead to an end to orcas in their parks altogether.
There have been plans to introduce federal legislation against the display of captive orcas as well. Representatives supporting the legislation have cited the strong evidence of psychological and physical harm to the animals, a harm that far outweighs any sort of benefit that their continued captivity and display could possibly bring. Of course SeaWorld was quick to speak against claims of harmed animals, saying that they work closely with scientists and conservation leaders to ensure that all captive animals are cared for in the best possible way. The company has launched several public relations campaigns to that end in an effort to reverse the narrative that is ultimately hurting their revenue.
Although Monday’s announcement has been welcomed as a step in the right direction by critics, many are saying it is still not enough. Organizations like PETA have acknowledged that the end of the theatrical style shows is completely necessary, but the harm to the animals will not end until they are granted freedom. To them, and many other anti-captivity activists, until all orcas are removed from captivity, they are being denied everything that is natural and important to them every single day.