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The SeaWorld theme park in California has decided to phase out controversial public displays by killer whales, CEO Joel Manby has said.

Joel Manby announced that 2017 will be the last year of the show in San Diego.

He said that the move was part of a strategy that seeks to reverse falling visitor numbers at the company’s 11 parks across the US.

SeaWorld has faced intense criticism by activists who say keeping the orcas in captivity is cruel and unnecessary.

Its shares have halved in value since the release of a critical documentary film two years ago.

Dramatic displays by orcas are the centerpiece at three parks operated by SeaWorld, in California, Florida and Texas.

The San Diego park is the company’s second biggest and features its famous Shamu killer whale show.

Photo SeaWorld

Photo SeaWorld

The parks have long been criticized by animal rights activists and some politicians, who argue that keeping the mammals – also known as orcas – in captivity is cruel and unnecessary.

Last month, Californian authorities prohibited SeaWorld from breeding animals in captivity, calling into question the future of the park’s popular killer whale attraction.

The San Diego show will reportedly be replaced with a new orca experience in a “more natural” setting but it is not clear what exactly that will involve.

SeaWorld’s popularity was damaged and attendance fell at its parks – especially in California – following the critically-acclaimed 2013 documentary Blackfish, which highlighted the impact of captivity on orcas.

The company has dismissed the documentary as inaccurate and misleading, pointing out that it has not captured a whale in the wild for 35 years.

SeaWorld has since sought to improve its fortunes with a fresh marketing campaign and discount offers.


The California Coastal Commission has approved a $100 million killer whale habitat expansion at SeaWorld in San Diego, but banned breeding of the captive orcas that would live in the new tanks.

The ruling came after a request by the San Diego aquarium to build new tanks for its orcas.

In a statement SeaWorld said it was “disappointed” with October 8 ruling.

SeaWorld plans to build two additional tanks for viewing and research.

“Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal’s life and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane,” said SeaWorld San Diego Park President John Reilly.SeaWorld San Diego killer whale habitat expansion

The building project was approved “under a condition that would prohibit captive breeding, artificial insemination, and the sale, trade or transfer of any animal in captivity.”

The commission received more than 120,000 emails from people about the proposed expansion, mostly from those opposing the project, said commission spokeswoman Noaki Schwartz.

The ruling affects SeaWorld’s San Diego business, but not its locations in Florida or Texas.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) praised the ruling, saying this would effectively end the orca whale exhibit.

In a statement they said that it “ensures that no more orcas will be condemned to a nonlife of loneliness, deprivation and misery.”

SeaWorld has come under heavy criticism in recently years, particularly after the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish which specifically criticized the company’s orca program.

Blackfish claims that whales in captivity become bored in their sterile environment which makes them aggressive towards their human trainers.

SeaWorld has called the film “false and misleading”.

Numerous celebrities have condemned SeaWorld’s treatment of its captive animals in the past years.

In August 2015, SeaWorld Entertainment reported an 84% drop in earnings in Q2 of 2015, compared to the same period in 2014, and a 2% drop in visitor numbers.

Russian scientists have made what they believe to be the first sighting of an adult white orca, also known as killer whale.

The adult male, which scientists have nicknamed Iceberg, was spotted off the coast of Kamchatka in eastern Russia.

Iceberg appears to be healthy and leading a normal life in its pod.

White whales of various species are occasionally seen; but the only known white orcas have been young, including one with a rare genetic condition that died in a Canadian aquarium in 1972.

The sightings were made during a research cruise off Kamchatka by a group of Russian scientists and students, co-led by Erich Hoyt, the long-time orca scientist, conservationist and author who is now a senior research fellow with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS).

“We’ve seen another two white orcas in Russia but they’ve been young, whereas this is the first time we’ve seen a mature adult,” said Dr. Eric Hoyt.

“It has the full two-metre-high dorsal fin of a mature male, which means it’s at least 16 years old – in fact the fin is somewhat ragged, so it might be a bit older.”

Russian scientists have made what they believe to be the first sighting of an adult white orca, also known as killer whale

Russian scientists have made what they believe to be the first sighting of an adult white orca, also known as killer whale

Orcas mature around the age of 15, and males can live to 50 or 60 years old, though 30 is more commonplace.

“Iceberg seems to be fully socialized; we know that these fish-eating orcas stay with their mothers for life, and as far as we can see he’s right behind his mother with presumably his brothers next to him,” said Dr. Eric Hoyt.

The cause of his unusual pigmentation is not known. The captive white orca, Chima, suffered from Chediak-Higashi syndrome, a genetic condition that causes partial albinism as well as a number of medical complications.

It is possible that an attempt may be made to take a biopsy from Iceberg; but with researchers reluctant to do so unless there is a compelling conservation reason, they are hoping instead for closer observations including a detection of eye color.

The project Dr. Eric Hoyt co-leads, the Far East Russia Orca Project, has pioneered visual and acoustic monitoring in the inhospitable Kamchatka seas, and has produced a number of papers on the communication of killer whales.

This may lead to improved understanding of the animals’ complex social structure, which includes matrilineal family clans, pods consisting of several families, and much larger “super-pods”.

A related project aims to study and conserve habitat for all whales and dolphins around the Russian coast.

In recent years a white humpback whale nick-named Migaloo has drawn intense interest in Australia, while the Arctic beluga is naturally white.

The most famous white whale, though, is the fictional sperm whale that drove Captain Ahab to his eventually fatal fury in Moby Dick.

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