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SeaWorld announces plans to phase out captivity of orcas

The chain of aquatic parks has said the orcas currently in its care will be its last. The announcement comes amid a growing backlash over the company's treatment of the animals.

SeaWorld announced on Thursday it was ending its orca-breeding program after years of controversy because of its alleged mistreatment of the mammals, which are also known as killer whales.

The decision means that the current orcas - 23 in total, across three different parks in Florida, California and Texas - will be SeaWorld's last.

"We haven't taken a whale from the wild in nearly 40 years," a company statement said. "Now, we're going further and will end our orca breeding programs as of today."

The youngest killer whale in SeaWorld's possession is one year old; the park also has a pregnant female.

SeaWorld faces mounting criticism

USA SeaWorld in Orlando

SeaWorld denies allegations it mistreats orcas

Animal rights activists have criticized SeaWorld for years, insisting that keeping orcas in captivity is unethical. Criticism of SeaWorld grew fiercer after the release of the documentary "Blackfish," a scathing film that suggested the park's treatment of the animals damaged them psychologically, even leading them to kill or injure their trainers.

The park denied the accusations, but that didn't prevent its shares from declining since the film's release. In 2015, California Congressman Adam Schiff introduced the ORCA Act in Congress, arguing that captivity of orcas should be phased out entirely. He took to Twitter to hail SeaWorld's decision.

In December, the park

announced it was ending its famed orca shows

at its park in San Diego, California, after patrons said they preferred to see the whales in their natural habitats rather than doing tricks.

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