SeaWorld announces expansion of animal exhibits

Space for killer whales will double in size

SAN ANTONIO – SeaWorld announced a major expansion for its killer whale pools in coming years as well as improvements in San Antonio for sea lions and dolphins.

The theme park has been criticized for not treating the captive whales better.

The improvements for the killer whales will be in San Antonio as well as the park's other locations in San Diego and Orlando.

The expansion was announced at 11 a.m. Friday in a video feed to thousands of people in San Antonio waiting for the Shamu show.

Many cheered when told the current pools for the killer whales will be widened and deepened.

Drawings showed that the improvements will include a more natural environment with rocks and grasses and a big underwater viewing area for guests.

Seaworld San Antonio President Dan Decker said it's the biggest improvement in SeaWorld's history.

"What we're doing is basically doubling the size of the water," Decker said. "It's going to be 50 feet deep. (The) current show pool is 40 feet deep, so it's going to be deeper than that. It's going to be spread over an acre and a half just of the water area. It's going to be a massive, massive expansion."

Decker said not only that, there will be new features for the whales.

"We're going to be putting in enrichment devices that we've wanted to: what could probably best be described as a water treadmill, if you will, flowing water that the whales will be able to swim against," Decker said. "We don't release the cost figures on all of these, but it'll be in the hundreds of millions of dollars."

People visiting the park seemed to like the new plans.

Frankie Alvarez is anxious to see it.

"Oh, very exciting, you know, seeing what comes in the next couple of years and stuff," Alvarez said.

Dolores Hampton was equally enthused.

"It's awesome," Hampton said. "It sounded exciting."

The animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, however, was not impressed.

A statement posted on Twitter said in part: "This is a desperate drop-in-the-bucket move to try to turn back the hands of time ... A bigger prison is still a prison."

The group has criticized SeaWorld for its treatment of animals.

The theme park's profits also took a dive this week.

Decker said Friday's announcement was not a reaction to criticism against the park.

"Absolutely people are going to say that and it couldn't be further from the truth," Decker said. "I've been working on this thing for years. It's been a dream of ours for many, many years."

Decker disagreed that any living creature has been mistreated.

"Our animals are happy and very well taken care of," Decker said. "We don't think we're going to change the minds of our activists and we're not intending to. We really are focused on the people who love us and come to our park every year."

SeaWorld San Antonio won't be getting any improved killer whale habitat anytime soon.

That will go to San Diego first in a couple of years and then SeaWorld San Antonio a few years after that.

However, next year San Antonio's sea lion exhibit will be remodeled to include a new restaurant and the following year the dolphins will get a new home.