Since the release of the film Blackfish in 2013, which documented the orcas’ plight, the once popular amusement park has lost over half of its market value. They have also been faced with increasing public backlash and more stringent regulations.
The company has spent over $15 million on messaging to counter the growing animal cruelty concerns.
“We are listening to our guests, evolving as a company, we are always changing,” chief SeaWorld executive Joel Manby told the Guardian. “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.”
SeaWorld will be continuing their orca shows at their San Antonio and Orlando locations.
"The issue is we need to break through the noise. We need to get the information flow to a net positive," Jill Kermes, SeaWorld’s senior corporate affairs officer, told USA Today.
“People love companies that have a purpose, even for-profit companies,” Manby told investors. “Just look at WholeFoods … I don’t see any reason why SeaWorld can’t be one of those brands.”
According to the park’s plans, the infamous “Shamu Stadium” at the San Diego location will be replaced with a more “natural setting” that will carry a “conservation message inspiring people to act,” according to the San Diego Union Tribune. In other words, the majestic animals will still be held in tanks, something activists and legislators alike want to see changed.
Just last week, California Congressman Adam Schiff announced he will be introducing legislation called “The Orca Act” to force the marine animal profiteers to stop holding orcas in captivity.
“The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display,” Schiff said.
“We cannot be responsible stewards of our natural environment and propagate messages about the importance of animal welfare when our behaviors do not reflect our principles. The Orca Act ensures that this will be the last generation of orcas who live in captivity, and we will appreciate these incredible creatures where they belong – in the wild.”
SeaWorld was also forced to scrap their plans to expand their whale tanks, as the California Coastal Commission ruled that they may only do so if they stop breeding orcas in their parks.
Originally, the theme park planned to expand the tanks to 255 feet long, or 4.5 times an orcas body length. The average adult male orca is 28 feet long, and current tanks are only 125 feet.