SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. took a major step forward toward animal protection and advocacy on March 17 when it announced that its theme parks would no longer breed orca whales.  With parks in San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio, SeaWorld has been targeted by animal-rights groups for the parks’ treatment of captive orcas.

In another move aimed at improving its image and reducing potential harm to animals, SeaWorld has formed a new partnership with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to protect ocean habitats. SeaWorld parks are ideal locations to educate its more than 20 million annual visitors about animal welfare and conservation issues.

“SeaWorld’s commitment to end breeding of orcas is a long-held goal of many animal advocacy organizations, and we commend the company for making this game-changing commitment,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS. “Today we turn a corner, working together to achieve solutions on a wide set of animal issues including sunsetting the use of orcas at existing facilities; maximizing SeaWorld’s focus on rescue, rehabilitation and advocacy for marine mammals in the wild; and sourcing food for animals and customers from humane and sustainable sources, including cage-free eggs and crate-free pork.”

SeaWorld Documentary

In 2013, the documentary Blackfish criticized SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas, commonly called killer whales. The deaths of two trainers also fueled the controversy about how the parks’ animals are housed, fed, trained and used for entertainment purposes.

“As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it,” said Joel Manby, president and chief executive officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. “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.”

SeaWorld plans to introduce a new creative way to feature natural orca encounters, rather than the theatrical shows it has become known for. Changes will begin to roll out in San Diego park next year, followed by San Antonio and then Orlando in 2019.