SeaWorld to End Orca Breeding Program

PHOTO: Trainers work with Orcas during a show at the Shamu Up Close attraction at Sea World in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 7, 2014.PlayJoshua C. Cruey/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images
WATCH SeaWorld Says Ending Killer Whale Breeding Is 'The Best Thing for Our Whales'

SeaWorld is ending its controversial killer whale breeding programs, the theme park operator said in a statement today.

Its treatment of the orcas has come under fierce criticism since the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish.”

"SeaWorld has been listening and we’re changing,” the statement said. “Society is changing and we’re changing with it. SeaWorld is finding new ways to continue to deliver on our purpose to inspire all our guests to take action to protect wild animals and wild places.”

It’s changing the breeding policy, as of today, but none of the 29 orcas in SeaWorld’s care will be released, according to the statement.

“The best place for them is at SeaWorld. ... No whale born under human care has been released successfully,” company CEO Joel Manby said.

“These majestic orcas will not be released into the ocean, nor confined to sea cages. They could not survive in oceans to compete for food, be exposed to unfamiliar diseases or to have to deal with environmental concerns – including pollution and other man-made threats.

“Instead, they will live long and healthy lives under love and care of our dedicated veterinary and other trained specialists where they can inspire this and future generations to be conservationists around the world through natural presentations that are fun, exiting and will educate guests about the plight of orcas in the wild.”

SeaWorld has operations in Florida, Texas and California.

That includes SeaWorld Orlando, where trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by popular orca Tilikum in 2010.

“That was a very horrific moment for our company,” Manby said. “Dawn's death is something none of us will ever get over.”

Manby also acknowledged that “Blackfish” did have an impact, saying “whether it’s a movie, whether it’s customers riding us, there is no doubt the mindset of society has changed. I think we have to change with it.”

But SeaWorld hopes the announcement and a new partnership with the Humane Society, previously one of the company’s loudest critic, will “signal a new direction.”

“It’s not perfect, we do have disagreements, but don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle said in a statement released today.

“Today’s announcement signals that the era of captive display of orcas will end and that SeaWorld will redouble its work around rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals in crisis and partner with us to tackle global threats to marine creatures.”

The company had announced last year that it would be phasing out its killer whale shows in 2016 and replacing them with a new orca experience at its San Diego park.