SeaWorld has decided to end its orca-breeding program following years of criticism about how the animals are kept in captivity. The company, which operates a number of amusement parks around the country, announced Thursday that the change would go into effect immediately, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and that it had partnered with the Humane Society of the United States.
The company said it would also expand its previously announced "new orca experience" planned for San Diego next year to some of its other locations. SeaWorld will introduce "natural orca encounter" in San Antonio and Orlando in 2019. THR reports that the Humane Society partnership will focus on educating park visitors on animal welfare and conservation.
"SeaWorld has introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas, and we are proud of our part in contributing to the human understanding of these animals," Joel Manby, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.'s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "As society's understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will encounter these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter."
The company's previous changes to its orca program followed governmental scrutiny regarding captive breeding on both the state and federal level. It also seemed to come in response to the backlash sparked by Blackfish, a 2013 documentary about how keeping killer whales in captivity was dangerous to both the animals and humans. Spokespeople for SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. said in November that the company intended to challenge the laws about how it bred animals.
PETA spokespersons commented on SeaWorld's advancements on Twitter. "SeaWorld must open tanks to the oceans to allow the orcas it now holds captive to have some semblance of a life outside their prison tanks," said one tweet. "SeaWorld has taken a step forward but more must come," said another.