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SeaWorld Says It Will Stop Breeding Killer Whales

Orcas performing a show at SeaWorld (Photo by Steven Depolo via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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SeaWorld announced Thursday morning that it will no longer breed orcas in captivity, and will phase the whales out of the park's famous killer whale shows.

The news was delivered both in a statement on the company's website, and in a op-ed piece written by the company's CEO, Joel Manby, published in today's L.A. Times. Citing changing social attitudes behind as the reason behind its decision, SeaWorld promises to end the orca shows in its San Diego location by the end of this year, and by 2019 at its locations in San Antonio and Orlando.

The orcas currently living at SeaWorlds around the country will remain an integral part of the company's three water parks. Instead of performing tricks for an audience, they will be transferred to new "inspiring, natural orca encounters" exhibitions, according to the op-ed.

For the San Diego park, this translates into a rough doubling of living space for the orcas.

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SeaWorld's decision is undoubtedly linked to the storm of criticism laid upon the company following the release of the documentary Blackfish in 2013, and a book, Sea World: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales In Captivity, published in 2012.

Yet SeaWorld's announcement that it will stop breeding killer whales today comes months after the company was actually ordered to stop by the California Coastal Commission. Last October, the Coastal Commission voted to approve the expansion of the orca exhibition tank with the stipulation the company stop breeding orcas. SeaWorld initially challenged the decision in court, suing the Coastal Commission in late December over whether or not the state agency has the authority to stop the company's orca breeding.

Not everyone is completely satisfied with the park's decision. PETA argues the company should go further, and should release the whales into the ocean.

"For decades, orcas, dolphins, beluga whales, seals and many other animals have suffered in SeaWorld confinement, and, to do right by them now, SeaWorld must open the tanks to ocean sanctuaries so that these long-suffering animals may have some semblance of a life outside their prison tanks," said PETA's president to the New York Times.

In his op-ed, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said very bluntly SeaWorld would not be releasing the animals into the wild. Most of the whales at SeaWorld parks around the country were bred in captivity, and consequently lack the survival skills necessary to live in nature.