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SeaWorld to phase out killer whale show

SeaWorld San Diego

The crowd reacts to a trained Orca whale during a performance at Shamu Stadium at Sea World in San Diego, CA, on Aug 14, 2014. Battered by controversy over its treatment of killer whales, Sea World San Diego announced plans for a new attraction to boost sliding attendance numbers.

(Don Bartletti)

SeaWorld intends to phase out its longstanding killer whale show at its San Diego park next year as part of a strategy to re-position the embattled company amid persistent criticisms of how it treats its orcas.

In its place would be a new orca experience debuting in 2017, described as “informative” and taking place in a more natural setting with a “conservation message inspiring people to act.”

The theme park company will turn its focus on inspiring guests to focus on conservation, said SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. chief executive Joel Manby, who took over as the head of the company in March.

“It is clear we can touch their hearts and teach the mind,” he said, adding that the company plans on working with public schools to educate 50 million students on conservation in the next five years.

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The announcement is contained in a company document posted online in advance of a webcast Monday morning in which Manby and other senior executives will unveil their vision for the company and its collection of 11 parks.

Last week Manby hinted that there would be a new attraction coming to the San Diego park and said that a portion of the $100 million allocated for a project to expand its killer whale tanks would be diverted for that purpose.

In its online presentation, SeaWorld references a new capital investment for the park in 2017 and a re-allocation of the dollars that were to be spent on the so-called Blue World tank expansion project.

The plan to gradually phase out the Shamu show comes amid efforts at both the state and federal level to end the captive breeding of orcas, which would effectively end the parks’ theatrical shows. SeaWorld has already vowed to fight a recent ruling by the California Coastal Commission to bar it from breeding its orcas as a condition of moving forward with the tank expansion projects.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said Friday that he plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit the breeding of captive orcas, end the capture of wild orcas and stop the import and export of the killer whales.

While it’s possible the killer whale shows could come to an end at SeaWorld’s two other namesake parks, in Orando and San Antonio, no mention is made of that in the company’s online presentation.

Attendance has been declining at SeaWorld parks since the 2013 release of the critical documentary “Blackfish,” which has aired repeatedly on CNN and brought negative publicity to SeaWorld. The company has fought back with a media campaign defending the parks’ humane practices, and that effort will continue, SeaWorld said Monday.

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