The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” took SeaWorld to task for keeping killer whales in captivity — which the film argued is highly detrimental to the creatures’ mental health.
Since then, SeaWorld has come under major fire — from animal welfare organizations, celebrities, and lots of people in between.
The economic consequences to the company have been enormous. The company’s profits dropped 84% between the second quarter of 2014 and the second quarter of 2015.
Today, the company finally decided to take action to try to quell the criticism.
As reported by Lori Weisberg in the San Diego Union-Tribune:
“SeaWorld intends to phase out its longstanding killer whale show at its San Diego park next year as part of a comprehensive strategy unveiled Monday to re-position the embattled company amid persistent criticisms of how it treats its orcas.”
Next year will be the last for the theatrical performances and coming in 2017 will be what SeaWorld Entertainment describes as an entirely new orca experience, designed to take place in a more natural setting. The announcement, made during a Monday morning presentation by senior SeaWorld executives, is part of a multi-pronged effort by the Orlando-based company to refocus the public’s attention on its conservation efforts while also growing revenues and stabilizing the business.
CEO Joel Manby, who joined the company in March, was short on specifics as to what the new orca shows will entail. He did stress, however, that the planned overhaul was not conceived as a way to appease its critics.
“We start everything by listening to our guests and evolving our shows to what we’re hearing, and so far that’s what we’ve been hearing in California, they want experiences that are more natural and experiences that look more natural in the environment,” said Manby. “But it’s not universal across our properties.”
While ending shows at one park won’t (and shouldn’t) stop people from criticizing SeaWorld, it’s a welcome first step.
Ending the shows could help make life much safer for SeaWorld’s trainers, many of whom have been injured or killed in orca attacks, which some argue are triggered by the stress of confinement.
SeaWorld still has a long way to go, however.
Ending the shows doesn’t address the underlying issue — that keeping orcas in captivity puts the animals under an enormous amount of mental and emotional stress.
California Representative Adam Burbank plans to introduce a bill that would ban breeding orcas in captivity and would make capturing them in the wild illegal.
But starting to phase out the shows means SeaWorld is listening.
Credit is due to the dozens of people who held the company’s feet to the fire and the thousands who voted with their feet — and their dollars.
Hopefully there’s a lot more change on the horizon.