SeaWorld to end killer whale breeding programme
Animal rights groups welcome news and call on company to release its 29 orcas into the wild
SeaWorld has announced an end to its killer whale breeding programme following years of controversy over of its treatment of the captive marine animals.
The decision comes after California regulators threatened to bar the company from breeding the mammals if it went ahead with expansion plans, Reuters reports.
In November, the theme park chain began phasing out a number of its orca shows after mounting pressure, particularly in the wake of the damning 2013 documentary Blackfish, which focussed on Tilikum, one of SeaWorld's whales.
"Since the film was released visitor numbers have fallen at SeaWorld's main theme parks and its share price has halved," says the BBC.
But writing in the Los Angeles Times, the company's chief executive, Joel Manby, said SeaWorld had helped to change public perception of the animals.
"They were feared, hated and even hunted. Half a century later, orcas are among the most popular marine mammals on the planet," he said.
Animal rights groups welcomed an end to the breeding programme, but urged SeaWorld to go further and release the 29 captive orcas it owns into the wild.
"Their worlds have been reduced from an expansive open ocean to gallons in a bathtub and they are driven insane by their diminished lives," says People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta).
But Manby says opening the tanks wouldn't be wise. "If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die. In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild," he said.
Highlighting SeaWorld's recent partnership with the Humane Society of the United States, he added: "The real enemies of wildlife are poaching, pollution, unsustainable human development and man-made disasters such as oil spills, not zoos and aquariums."
Peta, however, disagrees. "Although SeaWorld touts its conservation efforts in slick television ads, it's a business first and foremost, and it chooses profit over the best interests of marine mammals," it says.
"The ultimate hope for those animals lies in protecting their habitats, not in life sentences in a tank."