declining audiences which impacted its share price, SeaWorld announced in the LA Times
it will phase out its captive orca breeding program, the source of
its performers after wild capture was terminated decades ago. Perhaps SeaWorld is the victim of its own success having dramatically changed the public perception of orcas. Once considered predatory killing machines--hence the disfavored name 'killer whale'--orcas are now viewed as highly intelligent, social animals that are too large to be humanely kept in captivity. SeaWorld's orca performances were hugely popular with human audiences, becoming the theme park's recognizable brand [photo]. There are twenty-nine orcas still in SeaWorld's control. Tillicum, who is the subject of Blackfish, is sick and dying; he has been held captive in Orlando SeaWorld for twenty-three years. Whether he was driven to homicide by his long-term confinement is a moot issue now.
The revenue generated by the whales made it very difficult for the park's management to change it attitude toward ending orca shows even though it faced mounting opposition from animal welfare groups and eventually government authorities. Premature death of orcas, a killing of a high-profile keeper, and a controversial film, Blackfish that revealed alleged abuse made it impossible for the theme park not to phase out its "theatrical whale shows". In its announcement the entertainment company acknowledged the global extinction of wildlife, but defended its captivity of orcas saying zoos and aquariums were not part of the problem. SeaWorld also said release of its captive performers into the wild was not possible since no captive orca has ever survived such a shocking change in habitat; it promised to focus its future efforts on providing shelter for injured and stranded marine life.