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SeaWorld Announces an End to Orca Captivity -- But There's a Catch

by John Boone 10:00 AM PDT, March 17, 2016
Photo: Getty Images

There will be no need for a Blackfish 2 -- hopefully.

SeaWorld's CEO, Joel Manby, announced that, in the wake of mounting pressure from lawmakers and the public, the company is making "historic changes" to phase out the captivity of killer whales.

"This year we will end all orca breeding programs," he wrote in an Los Angeles Times op-ed. "Because SeaWorld hasn't collected an orca from the wild in almost four decades, this will be the last generation of orcas in SeaWorld's care. We are also phasing out our theatrical orca whale shows."

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PETA has celebrated the announcement, but says "more must come."

"For decades, orcas, dolphins, beluga whales, seals and many other animals have suffered in SeaWorld confinement, and to do right by them now, SeaWorld must open the tanks to ocean sanctuaries so that these long-suffering animals may have some semblance of a life outside their prison tanks," PETA president, Ingrid E. Newkirk, said in a statement.

SeaWorld says the whales will not be released though -- they will "continue to live at SeaWorld for many years to come, inspiring guests in new and natural ways" -- but the company claims that it's for the orcas' safety.

"If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die," Manby wrote. "In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild. Even the attempt to return the whale from Free Willy, Keiko, who was born in the wild, was a failure."

MORE: SeaWorld Expands Killer Whale Environments After 'Blackfish', But Is It Enough?

The park also announced that, in the future, they will "increase…focus on rescue operations," partnering with the Humane Society to "work against commercial whaling and seal hunts, shark finning, and ocean pollution."

The changes comes after years of declining attendance and stock value -- since the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish, a film that recounted the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by the killer whale Tilikum to show the dangers of keeping orcas in captivity. It was a film that SeaWorld fought hard to discredit.

Now, NBC News' Ronan Farrow has asked Manby if the film was right after all.

"I would never admit that the care of our animals was poor," the company's CEO rebuffed. "There were a lot of factors that have changed people's opinions, that film is one of them."

So, to get to the point: How long will SeaWorld have orca whales in captivity?

"It just depends on how long they live. We have one whale today that's 42 years old. We have a whale that hasn't been born yet," Manby said. "As long as it takes for this current population to pass on, and that is it. There will be no more new orcas."

Meanwhile, PETA recently called out Miranda Lambert, saying they had "higher hopes." Find out why the animal rights organization is upset with the country singer in the below video.

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