SeaWorld visitors react to killer whale changes

Orca whale show ending in San Antonio in 2018

By Garrett Brnger - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - The splash of orca shows and the whales that made them will soon be a thing of the past at SeaWorld San Antonio.

SeaWorld announced Thursday it would end breeding its orcas immediately and would begin phasing out the orca theatrical shows beginning with San Diego next year. San Antonio would follow in 2018 and Orlando would be the last in 2019.

The whales already in the parks will spend the rest of their days in captivity, which CEO Joel Manby said in a conference call with news media was the best option.

"First of all," he said, "in the history of mankind, no orca born under human care has ever been released. No dolphin born under human care has ever been released successfully. All but four of our whales were born under human care."

It's a sentiment at least one park visitor agreed with.

"They cannot release them because that's what they've known all the time," said Laura Duarte who was visiting SeaWorld San Antonio with her family.

‚Äč"I guess it's good and bad because it's ecologically friendly and positive, a positive thing," Duarte said about the changes for SeaWorld's orcas. "Our kids growing up nowadays, they need to be exposed to nature and the positive opportunities Sea World offers our kids to explore."

Instead of having the orcas perform tricks, SeaWorld will have what they call "orca encounters," which Manby said would, "highlight the natural behaviors of our whales: how they hunt, how they play, how they communicate."

The changes come at a time of increased scrutiny for SeaWorld. Manby did not mention the controversial documentary "Blackfish" by name in the conference call, but did say public opinion had shifted.

"You know, SeaWorld saw the writing on the walls," said Texas State Director of the Humane Society of the United States Katie Jarl.

Though SeaWorld and the Humane Society of the United States acknowledged themselves as longtime adversaries, they made the announcement together on Thursday's conference call, indicating a "broad, new partnership."

SeaWorld said it will help in advocacy efforts against practices like commercial whaling, shark finning and seal hunting.  It will also spend $50 million over the next five years on rescue efforts.

"So today's announcement is really going to help turn public opinion and make this park something that has the potential to really impact conservation, rehabilitation of marine mammals," Jarl said.

The pressure on SeaWorld apparently wasn't universal. 

"I didn't see anything wrong with it," said SeaWorld visitor Kim Bonewald when asked about the theatrical shows being phased out.

Kathy Flores, who was just passing by the park but had visited before, said she was indifferent to the park stopping the orca shows.

"It's just the same show from when we were kids," she said.

But it's a show that kids soon will never see again.

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