SeaWorld San Diego's Orca Shows Are Over For Good, But It's Not Done With Orcas Just Yet
In a statement on Monday, SeaWorld announced it would end its orca shows after months of mounting pressure from both the public and the California Coastal Commission, which had recently barred the entertainment company from breeding the whales in captivity. According to CEO Joel Manby, the move did not limit the parks from providing quality entertainment to park-goers, citing SeaWorld's other marine shows and attractions. Manby added that the park would be adding on a new, more "natural" orca exhibit in place of the previous shows.
"We're not limited to any one animal, to any one show, to any one attraction," Manby told investors at a livestream conference on Monday. "We are listening to our guests, we're evolving as a company, we're always changing." He added that the new orca attraction would provide conservation-based entertainment that all visitors could appreciate. "They want experiences that are more natural, so we actually think it’s a good thing because our guests will resonate with it more — the theatrical production of the show in that market is what they wanted to see less of."
According to a report by The San Diego Union-Tribune, the new exhibit is set to debut in early 2017 and will include educational opportunities and a "conservation message inspiring people to act."
Following the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which detailed the organization's alleged mistreatment of its killer whale population, SeaWorld was forced to reevaluate its orca shows entirely after the film spurred waves of intense public scrutiny. Angry social media posts encouraging users to boycott the company began cropping up as well under hashtags such as #StopSeaWorld and #OrcasLiveInOceans.
Despite regime change (earlier this year, Manby replaced former CEO James Atchison, who was forced to resign in January) and increased public relations efforts, the backlash over the film's allegations left a heavy mark on the company financially. On Thursday last week, the company suffered an 8 percent loss on its share prices after news of a disappointing third quarter began making the rounds. SeaWorld spokespersons blamed bad weather closures and an increase in legal fees for the drop.
The drop in share prices wasn't unexpected — in the time between Blackfish's release in July 2013 to the month's prior to Atchison's January 2015 removal, SeaWorld stock managed to somehow drop a whopping 51 percent; Since then, shares have plummeted to $17.91, down from its July 2013 price of $38.30.
Compounding the company's problems was an Oct. 8 ruling by the California Coastal Commission which banned captive whale breeding and limited SeaWorld's movement of the animals inside and outside of the park. According to the Los Angeles Times, the ruling put a damper on the San Diego park's plans for expansion, with officials claiming the move would bring about the "extinction" of the animals in its care. "Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal’s life, and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane," the park wrote in a statement that month.
However, Monday's announcement seems to already be throwing SeaWorld back into a good light: According to a report by CNBC, news of the orca show closure managed to bump up the company's share prices 3 percent by end of day and garnered a bevy of positive press from activist groups and state legislators alike.
"Today's acknowledgement by SeaWorld does not end our push to halt inhumane orca captivity and breeding practices, but it’s a step in the right direction," California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said in a statement. "Clearly, SeaWorld can move away from being a giant circus that harms animal life and still have a viable business model."
For his part, Manby seemed to agree, expressing hope for a more positive relationship with conservation groups and the public going forward. "I am excited about the alternatives that we are coming up with," he said in a statement.