SeaWorld Will Stop Breeding Orcas and Is Phasing Out Shamu Shows

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An orca whale jumps out of the water during the One Ocean show at SeaWorld San Diego.
This will just be an unfortunate cultural relic pretty soon. Photo: K.C. Alfred/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

In the future, there will be no Shamu. SeaWorld, known for its clapping seals, leaping whales, and inhumane captivity, has decided that its orca-breeding program can no longer be justified, and that the animals performing now will be the last generation to do so. SeaWorld owns 29 killer whales, which have a lifespan of about 30 years, so the change may take awhile. In November, the San Diego park announced it would phase out its high-flying acrobatics in favor of a toned-down conservation-themed show in a much larger tank. 

SeaWorld has been criticized for mating orcas when they are too young and forcing them to inbreed. Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society, who brokered the decision to end the breeding program, said, “Today’s announcement signals that the era of captive display of orcas will end.” The SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby signaled that the change is the next logical step in the SeaWorld brand overhaul. “As one of the largest rescue organizations in the world, we will increase our focus on rescue operations,” he said in a statement.

Much of the criticism of SeaWorld’s practices stems from the intensely critical 2013 documentary Blackfish, which showed orcas held in pens barely larger than their bodies and trainers performing dangerously close to the animals. The movie focused on Tilikum, an orca who accidentally killed a SeaWorld trainer and who is reportedly very sick. Since Blackfish, the ocean park’s stock price has fallen by more than half, and attendance has been way down as well.