SeaWorld to drop San Diego orca shows

SeaWorldScrambling to salvage its business amid a wave of negative publicity, SeaWorld has scrapped its traditional orca shows, banking on shaky hopes that the move is enough to turn the tide of criticism.

Trying for a reboot

“In 2017 we will launch an all new orca experience” focused on the whales’ “natural environment,” SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby recently announced, according to the Guardian. “2016 will be the last year of our theatrical killer whale experience in San Diego.” But the traditional performances will continue at SeaWorld’s other locations in Texas and Florida.

“He said the decision to end the orca shows in California was in direct response to customers, who he said had made it clear that they want less of a theatrical experience and would rather see the whales in a more natural setting,” the Guardian added. “Attendance at the San Diego park is falling fast. Visitor numbers dropped 17 percent last year to 3.8 million, according to city authorities, and Manby warned investors last week that numbers are still falling and would contribute to a $10 million hit to SeaWorld’s profits this year.”

Activists and critics, to little surprise, welcomed the change but swiftly demanded more. “Animal rights activists applauded SeaWorld’s plans to end its orca shows at its San Diego park but said the company should phase out its captivity of killer whales altogether,” the Associated Press reported.

Growing opposition

The root of the crisis traced back to the debut two years ago of a harshly critical documentary film. “Attendance has plunged, and company shares have fallen in half, since the 2013 documentary ‘Blackfish’ made a compelling case that the confinement and exploitation of killer whales inflicted physical and psychological stress on creatures that thrive on socialization and vast expanses of the ocean,” as the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle noted. Tim Zimmerman, co-writer of the film, told CNN SeaWorld’s abandonment of the San Diego shows was a “first step.”

“That film, shown repeatedly on CNN, had a profound impact on how the theme park is percieved by the public. SeaWorld has spent millions of dollars on ads and social media to restore its reputation,” as NPR observed. ‘Blackfish’ took as its point of departure the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, killed by one of the captive orcas at the company’s Florida location. SeaWorld withdrew its trainers from orca tanks after the incident, NPR added; but the damage to its reputation was done, as activists began to focus in on its treatment of whales and the psychology of the animals in captivity.

Legislators and regulators have also chipped away at the company’s fortunes. “SeaWorld suffered another blow last month when the California Coastal Commission approved a SeaWorld plan to expand its orca enclosures in San Diego but added the condition that the park must end its killer whale breeding program and halt the transfer of new whales to the park,” the Los Angeles Times recalled. “The conditions would eventually put an end to the park’s most popular attraction.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has forged ahead with a plan to federally prohibit the captive breeding of orcas. “The fact still remains that as long as SeaWorld holds orcas in captivity, the physical and psychological problems associated with their captivity will persist,” he said, according to the AP.

Added troubles

In a grim irony, SeaWorld’s troubles have not been confined to their featured marine animals. “A Wilsonville man is suing SeaWorld in San Diego, California after a trained hawk attacked his service dog,” KATU reported. “His dog may have contracted an aggressive disease as a result. Robin Revel has mounting veterinarian bills for his service dog Yogi that he didn’t expect after the attack happened in February. That’s why his attorney e-filed the liability lawsuit in San Diego on Wednesday.”


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  1. Just Another Disgruntled Citizen
    Just Another Disgruntled Citizen 13 November, 2015, 13:37

    I, for one, am glad that SeaWorld is responding to public pressure to drop the orca shows and that Congressman Schiff wants a federal law to stop breeding orcas in captivity.
    There is no rational argument to support economic gain that comes from unnecessary confinement or exploitation of wild creatures, especially highly intelligent ones whose natural environment is the wide open sea.
    I’m glad the mood of the American people is shifting away from this kind of entertainment and hope my fellow conservative libertarians will someday realize that the most important thing in the world is not the almighty dollar.
    There is a moral realm where the Universal Laws of Cause & Effect apply equally to everyone and to which we are all held accountable, whether or not we believe in such things, and true Liberty is not the product of Foolishness or Vice.

    Reply this comment
  2. desmond
    desmond 13 November, 2015, 18:10

    Agreed, but the govt should pay for people who have the desire to dump chum in the ocean and then jump in. It is a win for the purity of nature, aids in CO2 reduction. If someone wants to have it filmed, all the better. A religious event recorded for the masses. What a wonderful way to rid ourselves of the colonial, white privilege method of burial, or Gaia forbid: cremation.

    Reply this comment
  3. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 14 November, 2015, 07:56

    What puzzles me is the apparent total PETA disinterest in “freeing” all the captive dolphins (the mammals, not the fish). And seals, walrus’s and other such lovable sea mammals. Does not logic require similar concerns?

    Indeed, ANY mammal (mammals are given more status by animal rights advocates than the other creatures of the earth) should “by rights” be ascribed the same “free Willy” status. Horses, dogs, cats, etc. Should not cows be given the same sacred status as those placid behemoths wandering India’s streets?

    Perhaps it’s on PETA’s “do do” list. But I suspect they make an exception for THEIR pets.

    Reply this comment
    • Just Another Disgruntled Citizen
      Just Another Disgruntled Citizen 14 November, 2015, 09:51

      Reply to Richard:
      I know what you mean about PETA’s puzzling narrow focus on orcas while ignoring the rather broad issue of keeping wild creatures in captivity.
      But, the problem of domesticated animals is not quite the same because most of them could not survive in the wild and those that could might cause more trouble than you would expect.
      Case in point: wild burros.
      Those that are descended from the old California ranchero burros could live in the hills without intruding into urban areas or damaging native habitat for deer. But, after the well-meaning but badly-worked out rescue of burros from faraway places who were adopted by people with rural properties, many of the feral burros were either turned loose or got out somehow. Now they often live in herds of more than 25 members. They are destroying the landscape by eating everything in sight and go into urban residential areas to graze. They are now so aggressive, if you try to shoo them away, they will attack.
      Nobody seems to know what to do, but they are protected and the wild deer are not. Neither are the people.
      Domestic animals, like dogs and cats, are able to bond with humans as if we were all the same species. In fact, especially with dogs, humans have a kind of symbiotic relationship. They protect us by announcing arrivals of people who have crossed into our home-turf and keep us company, we provide them with food and shelter and so forth. The problem comes in with mistreatment or abuse by human “owners”, not with the basic arrangement between domestic canines and domestic humans.
      Domestic animals would benefit from more sensitivity from us humans, but we don’t need to feel guilty for keeping them if we treat them the way we would like to be treated were we in their place. This really needs to be a voluntary decision. Coercion does not produce the desired results.
      I think, as long as domestic animals are treated humanely, we are doing well. You have to understand that some domestic animals yearn for the other side of the fence, but once out they face sometimes insurmountable dangers. If they are let loose by their owners, most feel the trauma of abandonment. So, we don’t do them any favors by letting them fend for themselves. We have a moral responsibility to those who are dependent on us.

      Reply this comment
  4. desmond
    desmond 14 November, 2015, 13:30

    Gee, long winded. Are you by chance banging a burro?

    Reply this comment
  5. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 14 November, 2015, 13:51

    Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks it strange that people get all worked up and write long, heart felt comments about the psychological well being of Killer Whales. I’m pretty sure Killer Whales don’t spend much time worrying about human well being. They’re a very self absorbed, bigoted species that way.

    If you spend anything more than 60 seconds per year agonizing over this issue then I think you have way too much time on your hands and maybe some questionable priorities. There must be at least 1,000 topics of concern more important than this. Really.

    Disclaimer – No Orcas were psychologically harmed in the writing of this comment.

    Reply this comment
  6. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 17 November, 2015, 07:53

    Stupid PETA needs to GO AWAY and shove their Free Willy DVD,s and VHS up their backsides

    Reply this comment

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