On Monday, SeaWorld’s chief executive Joel Manby announced the company would change the “theatrical killer whale experience” in San Diego by the end of 2016 and refocus the water parks on conservation of animals.
The changes will affect the California Shamu show with “an all new orca experience focused on the natural environment [of the whales].” The orca whale performances will continue at SeaWorld parks in San Antonio, Texas, and Orlando, Florida.
The Guardian reported:
“We are listening to our guests, evolving as a company, we are always changing,” Manby said as he unveiled a new corporate strategy on Monday. “In 2017 we will launch an all new orca experience focused on natural environment [of whales]. 2016 will be the last year of our theatrical killer whale experience in San Diego.
Attendance at the San Diego park is falling fast. Visitor numbers dropped 17% last year to 3.8 million, according to city authorities, and Manby warned investors last week that numbers are still falling and would contribute to a $10m hit to SeaWorld’s profits this year.”
“People love companies that have a purpose, even for-profit companies,” he said. “Just look at WholeFoods … I don’t see any reason why SeaWorld can’t be one of those brands.”
Manby’s efforts to rebrand SeaWorld are also a response to the 2013 documentary Blackfish. The film investigated claims of abuse of orca whales and how such treatment may have provoked violent behavior that led to the deaths of three people. SeaWorld denies the claims, calling the film “propaganda” and asks customers to consider these “69 reasons you shouldn’t believe Blackfish”. Despite the denials, the film has sparked protests and falling profits for SeaWorld.
MintPress News recently reported on the company’s decreasing profits:
“SeaWorld has suffered a 84% collapse in profits as customers have deserted the controversial aquatic theme park company following claims it mistreated orca whales.The company, which trains dolphins and killer whales to perform tricks in front of stadiums full of spectators, on Thursday reported declines in attendance, sales and profits because of ‘continued brand challenges.’”
The announcement to change the San Diego park comes after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA) Act. The bill would end the wild capture, breeding, import and export, and captivity of killer whales. In a press release, Schiff said there is strong evidence of “psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals” and said the ORCA Act would ensure “this will be the last generation of orcas who live in captivity”.
If the bill became law, it would effectively end SeaWorld’s use of wild animals for circus performances. SeaWorld is feeling the pressure and wisely adjusting their policies, but will it be enough to satisfy the public outrage? Manby says customers want less of a “theatrical experience” and more “natural setting” for the whales. Is a theme park equipped to provide a natural setting for animals that belong in the ocean?
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