Life of Leisure Awaits SeaWorld's 'Last Generation' of Killer Whales

PHOTO: A killer whale watches as SeaWorld Orlando trainers take a break during a training session at the theme parks Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Fla., March 7, 2011.PlayPhelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo
WATCH SeaWorld to End Killer Whale Performances Amid Pressure

The end of SeaWorld’s killer whale breeding program means its “last generation” of orcas will “continue to receive the highest-quality care," the theme Park operator announcing today.

The result is that the 29 whales at four SeaWorld facilities, which include a pregnant orca named Takara, will remain in captivity despite the company’s decision to end the breeding program and phase out theatrical orca shows.

To avoid more pregnancies, the parks in Florida, California and Texas will use a birth-control method that the Humane Society says is commonly used at other facilities that practice proper fertility-control practices.

The company, which said it has not collected any orcas from the wild in over 40 years, said its animals will live out their lives at SeaWorld, a decision with which the Humane Society, its partner in the transition, agrees.

"They will continue to receive the highest-quality care based on the latest advances in marine veterinary medicine, science, and zoological best practices," SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Joel Manby said in a statement.

"Guests will be able to observe these orcas through the new educational encounter programs and in viewing areas within the existing habitats."

The killer whales are likely to be at SeaWorld for many years to come, despite the fact that orcas living in captivity have a 2.5 times higher mortality rate than killer whales in the wild.

The average male orca life span is about 30 to 60 years, and the average female orca life span is 50 to 100 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Manby also said on a later conference call that the park will not take the easy way out.

“It would be easier from a PR perspective to put them in a sea cage, but if we did that and it failed … it would be on us and we’d be criticized for that,” he said. “I think the right thing to do is keep them in the only place they’ve ever known with the people who love and care for them on a daily basis.

“As the science stands today, I don’t think it’s worth the risk for the animals.”

He also noted that no orca born under human care has been released back into the wild successfully.

By 2019, the orca theatrics will be phased out, but until then, the shows will go on.

As for what the decision might mean for dolphins that still have theatrical performances with trainers, Manby said, “Stay tuned.”