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In a letter to the Los Angeles Times, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby announced today that SeaWorld is ending captive breeding of orcas in its parks. But he intends for this last generation of orcas to live out their lives in concrete tanks at SeaWorld, and apparently intends no changes for all the other dolphins and whales and other animals that the company holds captive for profit.

SeaWorld’s announcement has been met with mixed feelings by the marine mammal advocacy community. David Phillips, Executive Director of the Earth Island Institute, expressed concern about the support that SeaWorld is receiving from the Humane Society of the U.S.:

Because of the stamp of approval from HSUS to SeaWorld keeping all orcas in captivity, it may significantly hurt the growing effort to bring about orca retirement to independent seaside sanctuaries.

So, while I do think it is important to support this step forward, it doesn’t mean that our work is done. We must keep up the pressure to end the capture, trade, breeding, circus performances, and holding of cetaceans captivity and for retirement of all captives.

On CNN.com, marine biologist and author Carl Safina weighed in on the critical issue of how and when the orcas would be retired altogether:

I and some others would like to see orcas retired to net pens in natural waters. This would be analogous to retirement sanctuaries for elephants and chimpanzees  … Let us now devise a realistic, humane, properly funded long-term plan for retirement sanctuaries for orcas.

And author Tim Zimmerman echoed this concern in an article in Outside Magazine:

Even with an immediate end to captive breeding, killer whales are long-lived, and SeaWorld could have some of its younger killer whales in its pools for 30 or more years … This leaves SeaWorld with two costly choices: weathering ongoing criticism for keeping killer whales in its existing pools or investing in developing sea-based sanctuaries.

Responses like these point to the one inescapable conclusion that SeaWorld’s CEO is still avoiding: that while stopping the breeding of captive orcas is an important step forward, the only way the company will be free of continued criticism from animal protection advocates, scientists, and the public is to retire the orcas and all the other cetaceans to sea sanctuaries.

Coastal sanctuaries are the only ethical and practical solution to SeaWorld’s dilemma.

On interviews throughout the day, Joel Manby responded to the sanctuary question with the classic crisis-PR maneuver of ignoring the question and going off on a tangent – in this case by saying that captive orcas cannot be released into the wild, thus creating the impression that retiring the orcas to a coastal sanctuary is the same as releasing them into the ocean. Nothing could be further from the truth. Coastal sanctuaries are the only ethical and practical solution to SeaWorld’s dilemma. And sooner or later SeaWorld is going to have to bite the bullet again, just as it has done today with the issue of captive breeding.

Last December, Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, and I presented a day-long public workshop entitled Sea-Pen Sanctuaries: Progressing Toward Better Welfare for Captive Cetaceans at the Society for Marine Mammalogy conference in San Francisco. Throughout the day, an A-list of marine mammal veterinarians, scientists, sanctuary directors and marine engineers outlined the necessary steps towards building a coastal sanctuary for orcas and other cetaceans.

Several realistic plans exist to achieve the goal of retiring captive orcas and others to sanctuaries within the next five years. We would welcome SeaWorld as an authentic collaborator in this overall effort. Only then will the company be the welfare and conservation organization it pretends to be now.

9 thoughts on “SeaWorld’s Announcement: A Good Start, but …

  1. Totally agree and I just posted this on my page as I see the backlash they are getting from their fans. ” Something to think about in business and strategy. What is our goal? Whales free and wild. Personally I think our ARA rhetoric needs to cool down as we are in our first win stage. It’s a marathon not a sprint and we won the first meet. As Dr Rose has said when facilities start evolving don’t tear them down. I believe that means support that they are changing and make it easier for them to do the right thing for the animals. The reason they are doing it doesn’t matter now. We want them to do more so both sides can’t be condemning them and since their hate mongering fan base is pushing to keep the status quo it would be smarter for us to nurture and guide them to take it even further. They need a fan base and theirs are turning against them. We need to encourage them to keep moving forward. They are reaching out to other RRR facilities so the day may come when they are ready to build the sea sanctuaries that we have never been able to. If we support with the love we have for the animals it becomes our voices guiding and not the hate monger fans. At the end for them it’s about ensuring they make a profit for their investors. We can show them with the right fan base sanctuaries will add even more. We don’t want them to come to a decision to sell the animals overseas for millions where we can’t keep eyes on them and they will fare far worse. Just thinking from a business and strategic perspective.”

    1. Jane – Thank you for your insightful comments. Kimmela looks forward to the day when SeaWorld is ready to take the next step.

      Lori Marino

  2. Thank you for eloquently explaining the current situation for captive cetaceans at SeaWorld. I note that there has been no mention of preventing “oops” conceptions of orcas and SeaWorld totally left out any mention of captive dolphins or a plan for them. They propose an incomplete plan. I for one am not fooled into believing that the captive population will fare well.

  3. Concisely argued. SW took a good first step toward liberating the whales from exploitation, for the sole purpose of human entertainment.

  4. I do not and have never agreed with captive animal shows. I for one do not believe any thing wild should live in a pool and I do not believe Sea World or any other like company will readily give up the money earned by others flocking to see these poor beings floating around in pool when historically they swim miles on any given day. Everyone has an opinion when a human captures and holds a human against their will, why then when it is a different type of mammal are you not more vocal in calling for their release? There is much more enjoyment to be had by standing at the sea shore and watching a whale pod or Dolphin group go by. The sheer joy of watching them jump and swim is amazing and that is the only place any of this activity should be on display. The wild things should always be just that, wild and free

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