SeaWorld says it will end killer whale breeding program
MIAMI - SeaWorld is ending its practice of killer whale breeding following years of controversy over keeping orcas in captivity.
The company announced Thursday morning the breeding program will end immediately. The company also announced a partnership with the Humane Society.
The company will also end theatrical shows and introduce "new, inspiring natural orca encounters." The new shows will begin next year at the SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.'s San Diego park.
SeaWorld president and CEO Joel Manby said in a statement that the company introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas and is proud of its part in contributing to the human understanding of the whales.
He says the company is "reimagining" how guests will encounter orcas while providing visitors to the theme parks with "experiences that matter."
Manby says the company may eventually make changes to its dolphin shows as well as its orca programs.
But he says that first, the company needs to follow through on its decision to end captive breeding of killer whales and stop making these larger marine mammals perform crowd-pleasing tricks.
When Manby was asked if SeaWorld may eventually end dolphin shows as well as theatrical orca performances, he said: "Stay tuned on that."
The director of the documentary "Blackfish" is applauding SeaWorld's decision to end its orca breeding program.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite says she also is applauding the public for reconsidering attitudes toward killer whales in captivity.
She tells The Associated Press that SeaWorld's announcement is a defining moment for the company. She says breeding orcas and exporting whales to international parks is the heart of SeaWorld's business model, so an immediate end to breeding is a "huge step and paradigm shift."
The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums said in a statement Thursday that "Blackfish" spread lies and misinformation about captive orcas and SeaWorld.
Cowperthwaite counters that scientists, consumers and animal rights advocates doing independent research since the film came out reached the same conclusion, all finding that keeping killer whales in captivity is inhumane.
Years of troubled waters for SeaWorld's killer whale shows
February 2010 - SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was interacting with a killer whale called Tilikum before a live audience at SeaWorld Orlando when it pulled her from a platform by her arm and held her under the water. While an autopsy report said Brancheau drowned, she suffered severe trauma, including multiple fractures and a severed spinal cord.
January 2013 - The highly critical documentary film "Blackfish," which focused on Tilikum, premiers at the Sundance Film Festival. Rights to the film were acquired by Magnolia Pictures and also CNN for broader release.
November 2013 - Protesters descend on Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which features a SeaWorld float depicting rolling waves, tropical fish, penguins and Shamu.
December 2013 - The rock bands Heart and Barenaked Ladies along with country singer Willie Nelson cancel performances at SeaWorld in Florida, citing "Blackfish."
July 2014 - Southwest Airlines ends 25-year marketing partnership with SeaWorld under pressure from animal rights activists.
August 2014 - Under sustained criticism over its treatment of killer whales, SeaWorld vows to build new, larger environments at its theme parks and fund additional research on the animals along with programs to protect ocean health and whales in the wild.
December 2014 - CEO Jim Atchison resigns and the company lays off more than 300 workers.
March 2015 - SeaWorld opens a marketing campaign to counter mounting damage to its public image from "Blackfish."
May 2015 - SeaWorld is cited in California for not adequately protecting its killer-whale trainers at its park in San Diego.
July 2015 - SeaWorld suspends an employee accused of posing for years as an animal-rights activist and trying to incite violence among peaceful protesters.
August 2015 - SeaWorld reports falling profits as animal activists protest the company's treatment of whales.
October 2015 - California Coastal Commission approves a $100 million expansion of the tanks SeaWorld uses to hold killer whales in San Diego - but bans breeding of the captive orcas that would live in them.
October 2015 - SeaWorld challenges Coastal Commission ruling that banning the breeding of captive killer whales at its San Diego park.
November 2015 - SeaWorld announces it will end orca shows at its San Diego park by 2017.
December 2015 - SeaWorld files a lawsuit claiming that a California commission overreached when it banned the breeding of captive killer whales at a $100 million planned exhibit at San Diego's SeaWorld.
January 2016 - SeaWorld agrees on proposed settlement over allegations that the park failed to train workers to safely interact with killer whales.
February 2016 -SeaWorld acknowledges that it orchestrated the infiltration of an animal rights group, sending its own workers for what it describes as security purposes. The company reports a fourth-quarter loss of $11 million. se
March 8, 2016 - Tilikum, the orca whale that killed trainer Dawn Brancheau, is sick and may die from a bacterial infection, SeaWorld announces.
March 17, 2016 -SeaWorld announces the end of killer whale shows at its theme parks. The current generation of orcas will be the last.