SeaWorld has announced that it's ended the practice of breeding orcas in captivity. It will also stop running its theatrical shows, replacing them with what it calls "natural" encounters with the animals — but only by 2019. SeaWorld currently looks after 24 orcas. In a statement, Joel Manby, the company's President and CEO, explained that these will be "the last generation of orcas in our care". Instead, the focus will shift to other animals and, apparently, the "expanded advocacy for wild whales, seals, and other marine creatures".
Last year, SeaWorld's San Diego park stopped its theatrical shows, but only after Adam Schiff, a southern California congressman, announced plans to introduce a bill that would ban all public displays of orcas. Now the company is expanding that policy across all of its parks, too, replacing them with "new, inspiring, natural orca encounters", which will "focus on orca enrichment, exercise, and overall health".
While the halt on breeding starts today, the changes to show schedules will take much longer. The shows will stop in San Diego next year but will continue in Orlando until 2019. Which serves to demonstrate that SeaWorld isn't suddenly doing this because it's had an attack of conscience — it's doing it because of rising public pressure. In part that pressure was created by the 2013 documentary Blackfish but, guys, we all saw Free Willy. We all known orcas find open waters and real waves rather pleasant. We all know SeaWorld sucks.
But given it can still make a few bucks out of running shows for the next three years, orcas be damned, while it busies itself creating a business model that's a little less shameful and cruel? Hey, may as well.