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."