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.
SeaWorld has announced it is planning to challenge a ruling banning the company from breeding captive killer whales.
The announcement comes a week after the California Coastal Commission backed a $100 million expansion of SeaWorld’s orca tanks in San Diego.
However, the enclosure improvements also outlined a series of restrictions, including a ban on breeding the whales.
SeaWorld said it would “pursue legal action” over the ruling.
Company President Joel Manby said: “The Coastal Commission went way beyond its jurisdiction and authority when it banned breeding by killer whales at SeaWorld.
“It simply defies common sense that a straightforward land-use permit approval would turn into a ban on animal husbandry practices – an area in which the Commissioners have no education, training or expertise.
“To say that this is a dubious decision with no legal basis is an understatement, which is why we must and will challenge the Commission’s decision.”
SeaWorld has come under criticism since the release of 2013 documentary Blackfish, which suggests its treatment of captive orcas provokes violent behavior. The company’s stock price also has dropped over the past two years.
The company has called the documentary “false and misleading”.
Several celebrities have recently suggested they’re not happy with SeaWorld’s treatment of its animals.
Noaki Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the commission said it received more than 120,000 emails about the SeaWorld proposed expansion, mostly from people opposing the plans.
The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said the Coastal Commission hadn’t overstepped the mark with the ruling and that “SeaWorld is blowing smoke”.
SeaWorld, which plans to build two new tanks for viewing and research, said 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”.
The commission said it had not seen a legal complaint and could not comment.
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