Wed, Nov 11, 2015 - Page 7 News List

SeaWorld to end orca shows at park

AP, SAN DIEGO, California

Killer whales perform during a show at SeaWorld in San Diego, California, on March 19, last year.

Photo: Reuters

SeaWorld is to end orca shows at its San Diego park after visitors at the tourist attraction made it clear they prefer seeing killer whales act naturally rather than doing tricks, SeaWorld Entertainment chief executive officer Joel Manby said on Monday.

Manby told investors the park — where the iconic “Shamu” show featuring killer whales doing flips and other stunts debuted decades ago — is to offer a different kind of orca experience focusing on the animal’s natural setting and behaviors, starting in 2017.

Animal-rights advocates called the move a marketing gimmick and want the company to phase out holding any whales in captivity.

“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,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals animal law director Jared Goodman said. “This move is like no longer whipping lions in a circus act but keeping them locked inside cages for life.”

The Orlando, Florida-based company has seen revenue drop since the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish that examined how orcas respond to captivity. It chronicles the case of Tilikum, a killer whale that caused the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 by pulling her into a pool at SeaWorld Orlando.

Attendance has dropped the most at the San Diego location, and the decision to end orca shows is to be limited for now to that park, the original home of Shamu, its first orca.

The shows are to continue at the other two SeaWorld parks in San Antonio, Texas and Orlando, Florida.

The killer whale shows at the Shamu stadium in San Diego were 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 splash spectators in a “splash zone.”

After Brancheau’s death, trainers stopped going in the water during the shows, but they continue to swim with the killer whales while training them.

Manby on Monday told investors that California customers want to see a less theatrical production, so the new attraction is to have a strong conservation message.

“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.”

However, that is not “universal across our properties,” he added.

The news came days after SeaWorld reported its third-quarter earnings missed Wall Street expectations.

SeaWorld earlier this year announced plans for a US$100 million expansion of the killer whale tanks in San Diego to boost attendance, but the California Coastal Commission made approval of the project, dubbed “Blue World,” contingent on SeaWorld agreeing not to breed, transfer or sell any of its captive orcas at the park.

Manby called the ruling — which SeaWorld plans to fight in court — a bad precedent for not only SeaWorld, but all zoos and aquariums.

He said that the company is considering adding hotels at its parks, starting with San Diego, to attract overnight visitors.

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