SeaWorld has bowed to considerable public pressure and will immediately stop breeding killer whales, essentially phasing out the iconic animals from its theme parks in the United States.
The release in 2013 of the documentary Blackfish, which was highly critical of the orca programme, saw a considerable dent in visitor numbers to Seaworld. Orcas have long been a centrepiece of SeaWorld parks.
The company reported a fourth-quarter loss of $11 million in February.
SeaWorld Entertainment president Joel Manby said on Thursday the company would stop using orcas in theatrical shows in the parks, instead introducing “new, inspiring natural orca encounters”.
“As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it,” Manby said.
“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.”
The new shows will begin next year at the company’s San Diego park, before expanding to its San Antonio park and then to an Orlando, Florida, park in 2019.
The company has also formed a partnership with the Humane Society to help educate guests on animal conservation issues.
“We commend the company [SeaWorld] for making this game-changing commitment,” Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, said.