Sea World to Stop Breeding Orcas

The theme park operator will bring to a close a program that has generated a great deal of controversy.

In an opinion piece published this morning in the Los Angeles Times, Sea World Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby announced the company will no longer breed orcas.

"This year we will end all orca breeding programs," Manby wrote, calling the remaining orcas "the last generation of orcas in Sea World's care."

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Sea World runs a dozen parks and has been criticized by animal rights groups for the allegedly unsatisfactory care of the orcas it has used in its shows. The documentary film "Blackfish" gained particular notoriety for its examination of the life of a Sea World orca named Tilikum.

The company had previously announced it would phase out its theatrical orca shows, in advance of federal legislation, and Manby said setting free Sea World's orcas now is "not a wise option."

"Most of our orcas were born at SeaWorld, and those that were born in the wild have been in our parks for the majority of their lives," he wrote. "If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die."

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In a statement, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) said it "commends SeaWorld for its game-changing commitment to end breeding of orcas, a long-held goal of many animal advocacy organizations."

"HSUS also commends the company for ending its theatrical performances of orcas in favor of orca exhibits that highlight the whales' natural behaviors, and for redoubling its commitment to rescue and rehabilitation model for marine animals in crisis," the organization added.

Manby wrote that Sea World and HSUS are entering a partnership. "Together, we will work against commercial whaling and seal hunts, shark finning and ocean pollution."

The world's oldest orca, affectionately known as "Granny" and an estimated 103 years old, paid a visit to the waters off Washington state on May 9 alongside her 25-member pod, "J-Pod." The sighting was a treat for the tour guests of Captain Simon Pidcock's Ocean EcoVentures. Pidcock took the chance to capture Granny in this series of photos.

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The grand dame and J-Pod for the majority of the year patrol the waters between the north coast of British Columbia and Northern California.

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Pidcock said Granny was instantly recognizable by her saddle patch, a white area whales have on their dorsal fins.

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J-Pod was reportedly seen about one week earlier in an area off Northern California -- some 800 miles away from this appearance. This leaves whale watchers feeling confident about the shape Granny is in, if she can make such amazing journeys.

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Granny's birth year designation of 1911 derives from her size, the size of her offspring, and comparison photos of the senior-citizen orca from as far back as the 1930s. She was caught once in 1967, but she was released because her age was a bit long in the tooth for sea park life. Who could have imagined that 47 years later she would still be alive and thriving?

Granny's 103 years are about twice the age of the oldest orca in captivity (Lolita, in the Miami Seaquarium, is 50). "It surprises people when they realize this whale was around before the Titanic sank. She's lived through fishing changes and live captures of whales. I would love to know what she thinks," said Pidcock. Photos courtesy of Simon Pidcock and

Ocean EcoVentures