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SeaWorld in San Diego plans to phase out controversial orca shows

Marine mammal park announces change after coming under criticism for its treatment of killer whales

SeaWorld plans to phase out the killer whale show at its San Diego park after long-standing criticism of its treatment of the mammals, also known as orcas, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Monday.

The park will end its long-running Shamu show and instead create for its orcas a more natural habitat, expected to open in 2017, according to a SeaWorld document prepared before a webcast to investors, the newspaper reported.

The park’s plan comes a month after the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to allow SeaWorld San Diego to expand its orca habitat on the condition that it also end its captive-breeding program for the whales.

The decision was seen as a major blow to the park’s traditional centerpiece orca shows, named for the original Shamu, a killer whale at the park during the 1960s and early 1970s.

SeaWorld Entertainment said in response that it would fight the commission’s ruling.

Meanwhile, the company’s decision to end the shows and expand its orca pools in a natural-type setting is failing to impress animal rights advocates. They want to see the park’s 11 killer whales released into the wild.

“An end to SeaWorld’s tawdry circus-style shows is inevitable and necessary,” said Jared Goodman, the animal law director for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “This move is like no longer whipping lions in a circus act but keeping them locked inside cages for life.”

SeaWorld has faced heated criticism and declining admissions since release of the 2013 documentary film “Blackfish,” which presents a dim view of how the company treats its orcas.

Last week Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., announced plans to introduce the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement Act, which would phase out captivity of orcas, specifically prohibiting the breeding, wild capture, import and export of orcas for public display.  

On Monday he released a statement on SeaWorld San Diego's decision to phase out its orca show, calling it a “welcome step along the path towards ending the captivity of these magnificent creatures.”

Schiff added that the company should go further, “to curtail the breeding of their orcas and partner in the creation of ocean sanctuaries. The fact still remains that as long as SeaWorld holds orcas in captivity, the physical and psychological problems associated with their captivity will persist.”

Al Jazeera with Reuters

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