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.
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.
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
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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