SeaWorld has announced it will phase out killer whale performances in California. The decision follows declining profits as well as criticism by animal rights groups campaigning against whales held in captivity.
SeaWorld will end orca shows at its San Diego theme park next year after visitors at the tourist attraction made it clear they prefer seeing killer whales act naturally rather than doing tricks, CEO Joel Manby told investors.
"They want the orca experience to be activities the whales do in the wild," Manby said. "Things they perceive as tricks, they don't like as well."
Killer whale shows had been the park's main draw in the 1970s and helped build SeaWorld as a top tourist attraction. Trainers would ride the whales in the giant pool before getting out and signaling for the orca to slap its tail in the water to drench spectators.
But the theme park has stopped allowing human performers swim with the huge marine mammals after an orca killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 by pulling her into a pool at its water park in Orlando, Florida.
SeaWorld plans to keep its orcas in San Diego on display, they just won't perform stunts for visitors.
The announcement follows disappointing profits from SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. which has reported its third-quarter earnings missed Wall Street expectations.
SeaWorld operates 11 water parks and in recent years has seen attendance drop, notably at its San Diego park, in part because of the negative publicity on its orca whale show.
Captivity of orcas criticized by animal rights groups
Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are in the dolphin family. Males are larger and typically range from 7 to 9 meters (23 to 30 feet) long and weigh in excess of 6 tons. Females generally range from 6 to 8 meters and weigh 3 to 4 tons.
Animal rights groups which have campaigned for years against holding orcas in captivity dismissed the news as a marketing gimmick.
"An end to SeaWorld's tawdry circus-style shows is inevitable and necessary, but it's captivity that denies these far-ranging orcas everything that is natural and important to them," said Jared Goodman of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "This move is like no longer whipping lions in a circus act but keeping them locked inside cages for life."
Legal setbacks could also be a factor in the company's decision.
SeaWorld earlier this year had announced plans for a $100 million (93 million euro) expansion of its killer whale tanks in San Diego to boost attendance. But approval by the California Coastal Commission was contingent on the company agreeing not to breed, transfer or sell any of its captive orcas at the park.
Manby called the ruling - which SeaWorld plans to appeal in court - a bad precedent for not only SeaWorld but all zoos and aquariums. He's also indicated to investors that the company might shelve the San Diego project.
There was no mention of any changes in the works for orca attractions at the company's two other US water parks in Orlando, Florida and San Antonio, Texas.
jar/jil (AP, Reuters)