As SeaWorld Drops Orcas, a Former Foe Becomes a Friend

When SeaWorld announced this week that it would retire its orca shows and stop breeding killer whales, the theme-park chain was joined by a former critic—the Humane Society of the United States—in a new initiative to rehabilitate and protect marine animals.

For years, the Humane Society of the United States has been one of SeaWorld’s political opponents—and one of the many groups that have spoken up about the park’s use of killer whales as a main attraction.

At one point, the HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle publicly promoted the the release of a book about the death of a trainer during one of its Shamu shows. One of the main characters in David Kirby’s Death at SeaWorld? HSUS employee and animal advocate Naomi Rose.

Along with the 2013 documentary Blackfish, Death at SeaWorld became one of the major turning points in the public relations campaign against keeping killer whales in captivity.

This week, the company finally bowed to public pressure. Joel Manby, the president and CEO of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, announced the company’s plan to end its orca breeding program—effectively phasing out the Shamu phenomenon that has been a centerpiece of the theme park for decades.

“This year we will end all orca breeding programs—and because SeaWorld hasn’t collected an orca from the wild in almost four decades, this will be the last generation of orcas in SeaWorld’s care,” Manby wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times. “We are also phasing out our theatrical orca whale shows.”

And as part of that announcement, Manby highlighted the forging of a new partnership with the HSUS to fight commercial hunting of sea mammals, as well as ocean pollution. The company will donate $50 million over the next five years as part of its efforts, according to the HSUS.

“The Humane Society recognizes the critical work SeaWorld performs as one of the largest rescue organizations in the world,” Manby wrote. “SeaWorld will increase its focus on rescue operations—so that the thousands of stranded marine mammals like dolphins and sea lions that cannot be released back to the wild will have a place to go.”

SeaWorld’s decision came months after it sued the California Coastal Commission for only allowing the company to build a new orca enclosure at its San Diego park if it agreed to stop the breeding and transferring of the killer whales.

A Changing Relationship

The move represents a fairly significant shift in the relationship between the HSUS and SeaWorld, one that came about through negotiations between the nonprofit and the corporation, according to Pacelle. In a blog post, the HSUS chief executive noted that the agreement to end the theatrical shows was part of the deal that the two sides worked out.

Pacelle also noted that the initiative represented the second major victory in just over a year for the HSUS. Last March, Ringling Bros. announced that it would retire elephants from its circus shows in 2018—a move that Pacelle called “startling and tremendously exciting.”


(Mike Black/Reuters)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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