SeaWorld Ending Killer Whale Breeding, Shows

The company's March 17 announcement promises the end of orca shows by SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., which brought the company into a prolonged battle with OSHA.

SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. announced March 17 that the killer whales now owned by the company "will be the last generation of orcas at SeaWorld" and that it will end all orca breeding as of March 17. Animal rights activists sought this outcome for years, aided significantly by the documentary "Blackfish" and by an OSHA enforcement case against SeaWorld of Florida LLC that stemmed from the February 2010 death of killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau. Tilikum, an orca at the Florida park, pulled her into a pool and killed her.

SeaWorld challenged OSHA's general duty clause violation, and the company lost in mid-2014 when a panel of three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected that challenge. Judge Merrick Garland, nominated by President Obama this week to the U.S. Supreme Court, was one of the two judges that upheld OSHA's authority in the case.

SeaWorld's March 17 announcement said the company "also will introduce new, inspiring, natural orca encounters, rather than theatrical shows, as part of its ongoing commitment to education, marine science research, and rescue of marine animals. These programs 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." The announcement also said SeaWorld has entered a new partnership with the Humane Society of the United States "to protect our oceans and the animals that call them home. The company is committing to educating its more than 20 million annual visitors on animal welfare and conservation issues through interpretative programs at the parks and expanded advocacy for wild whales, seals, and other marine creatures."

"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," said Joel Manby, president and CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. "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."

According to the announcement, "the current population of orcas at SeaWorld – including one orca, Takara, that became pregnant last year – will live out their lives at the company's park habitats, where they will continue to receive the highest-quality care based on the latest advances in marine veterinary medicine, science, and zoological best practices. Guests will be able to observe these orcas through the new educational encounters and in viewing areas within the existing habitats. SeaWorld reaffirms its commitment not to collect marine mammals from the wild. It has not collected an orca from the wild in nearly 40 years, and the orcas at SeaWorld were either born there or have spent almost their entire lives in human care. These orcas could not survive in oceans that include environmental concerns such as pollution and other man-made threats."

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