It’s about time. SeaWorld, battered by declining attendance and profits, finally announced this week it is ending its captive breeding programs for orca whales and phasing out their theatrical shows. This welcome change finally recognizes modern public attitudes toward the treatment and captivity of animals, and it is a victory for animal rights groups.
SeaWorld said in a statement that “society is changing and we’re changing with it.” But the change came grudgingly and after the company spent millions in advertising defending its practices and attacking its critics. The company also acknowledged last month that its employees posed as animal rights activists after it was accused of sending someone to incite violence among protesters.
The backlash against SeaWorld crystalized with the response to the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which made the case that the park’s treatment of Tilikum contributed to the killer whale’s deadly attack on one of its trainers. Killer whales have not been captured and brought to this country from U.S. waters since 1976 or from international waters since 2001. California said last year it would not allow SeaWorld to breed killer whales in captivity, and federal legislation is pending that would phase out the captivity of killer whales. So SeaWorld’s future was becoming clearer, and it adjusted to the realities of regulation and the marketplace.
The company smartly worked with the Humane Society to set its new policies. SeaWorld also makes a reasonable case that it would be unwise to release its 29 captive orca whales into the wild when they have been so removed from that world. The company has taken responsible steps to end its breeding programs and theatrical shows, and the last generation of orcas should be better treated as they live out their remaining years.