SeaWorld Will End Killer Whale Breeding Program, After Years Of Prompting

To file under both “Better Late Than Never” and “Too Little, Too Late:” SeaWorld has finally announced plans to close their killer whale breeding program. Unsurprisingly, their announcement and final decision to end the program came about a week after announcing that the orca whale Tilikum featured in Blackfish is extremely sick, suffering from a chronic bacterial infection in his lungs.

Having stuck to their guns despite years of criticism, SeaWorld has desperately clung to claims that keeping thousand pound sea animals in captivity was somehow producing groundbreaking research, I imagine the frat boys who broke in to SeaWorld to take a selfie with Shamu also considered it groundbreaking research.”

Claiming they are shifting their focus from captive animal breeding to animal rescue, the SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times saying:

We are proud of contributing to the evolving understanding of one of the world’s largest marine mammals. Now we need to respond to the attitudinal change that we helped to create — which is why SeaWorld is announcing several historic changes. This year we will end all orca breeding programs — and because SeaWorld hasn’t collected an orca from the wild in almost four decades, this will be the last generation of orcas in SeaWorld’s care. We are also phasing out our theatrical orca whale shows.

I love how he frames the “attitudinal change that we helped to create” as a positive reality, and not an instance of them blatantly abusing animals and receiving backlash, but hey — whatever wording prompts action?!

Despite plans to immediate shut down the breeding program, Manby clarified that despite radical requests they don’t intend to set any of the orcas free:

Most of our orcas were born at SeaWorld, and those that were born in the wild have been in our parks for the majority of their lives. If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die. In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild. Even the attempt to return the whale from “Free Willy,” Keiko, who was born in the wild, was a failure.

I’m sure there is some truth to the concept of whales who’ve grown in captivity being less able to navigate the wilds of the ocean, but also, given the fact that the whales at SeaWorld are getting sick and being manhandled I imagine gifting the orcas a free ocean death would be the least they could do.