Why SeaWorld’s Plan to Halt Killer Whale ‘Tricks’ Is Getting a Chilly Reception

Photo (cc) by Abi Skipp

SeaWorld is phasing out its famous – and controversial – killer whale shows at its San Diego marine park. The traditional trick-based Shamu shows will be replaced in 2017 with an orca experience that is more focused on the natural behaviors whales exhibit in the wild.

“It’s going to be focused more on the natural setting, natural environment and also the natural behaviors of the whales,” SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said in a Facebook post.

Manby announced the change during a call with investors, Slate reports. The move is part of a larger effort by SeaWorld to focus attention on its conservation work and repair its reputation with the public.

The Orlando-based SeaWorld, which has 24 whales total between its three parks, came under fire in 2013 after the release of “Blackfish,” a documentary that follows the controversial captivity and public exhibition of killer whales at marine parks.

The “Blackfish effect” left SeaWorld in San Diego struggling to combat declining attendance and defend the marine park’s treatment of animals.

Retiring the traditional killer whale show and replacing it with a more natural orca experience may sound great on the surface, but some lawmakers and animal activists say it’s not enough, NBC reported.

“This is incremental. It’s never going to get them to the end goal of truly improving the situation for the orcas there,” Naomi Rose, a marine scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, told NBC.

According to Slate, SeaWorld’s planned orca experience is little more than a revamped Shamu show.

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). Any capital expenditures to spruce up the tanks will be “minimal,” Manby said. Aside from that, the shows probably won’t involve whales lifting their trainers into the air on their muzzles. But there will be whale dancing. Just naturalistic whale dancing.

Manby explained that the new orca show will focus on more natural whale movements.

“So they jump in the wild. They splash in the wild. But some of the other things that are perceived as trained tricks” are less appreciated by guests and are probably going to be eliminated, Manby said.

SeaWorld hasn’t said if its other two namesake parks, in San Antonio and Orlando, will follow suit.

SeaWorld San Diego was recently dealt another blow when the California Coastal Commission approved its planned $100 million “Blue World” expansion project with the condition that the marine park halt its orca breeding efforts. SeaWorld plans to sue over the commission’s ruling, Slate reports.

What do you think about SeaWorld’s plans to pull the plug on its traditional killer whale shows in San Diego? Sound off below or on our Facebook page.

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