Fallout from Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s revealing documentary “Blackfish” continues to impact theme park behemoth SeaWorld, who have now announced that they will stop breeding orcas in captivity and will cease asking their existing whale population to perform on command, as reported by the Associated Press. In November of last year, SeaWorld pledged to end its orca shows at its San Diego park at some point in 2016, but this most recent announcement ensures much more sweeping (and necessary) changes to their captive whale programs.
Of the new plan, SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Joel Manby commented, “Society’s attitude toward these very, very large, majestic animals under human care has shifted for a variety of reasons, whether it’s a film, legislation, people’s comments on the Internet. It wasn’t worth fighting that. We needed to move where society was moving.”
Despite SeaWorld’s attempts to move forward, the news is not all good. Although they will cease breeding, they will not release any of the 29 whales currently in their care, and instead will use them as part of “new, inspiring natural orca encounters,” which reportedly place an emphasis on conservation efforts, per the November announcement. Moreover, the 29 whales currently housed by SeaWorld range in age from 1 to 51, and with an estimated lifespan in captivity topping off around 30 years, many of the whales will continue to be a part of SeaWorld’s attractions for many years to come.
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Cowperthwaite’s film premiered at Sundance in 2013, where it stunned festival audiences, and was subsequently shown repeatedly on CNN, reaching millions of viewers who previously had little idea what actually happened at the marine animal parks. Despite numerous attempts to refute Cowperthwaite’s claims, SeaWorld was unable to turn the tide back as both celebrities and regular park-goers alike made their disdain clear, either by visibly boycotting the parks or by simply not going.
Although Cowperthwaite told the AP she is pleased with SeaWorld’s decision, she “mostly…applaud[s] the public for recalibrating how they feel ethically about orcas in captivity.” The AP also reports that while the Humane Society is also pleased with the new direction, PETA continues to call for the release of all of SeaWorld’s orca population back into the wild.