SeaWorld theme parks announced on Monday that the company is phasing out "theatrical" shows involving killer whales - but that doesn't mean an end to making the highly intelligent and deadly creatures perform.
From 2017 a new show with a “more natural setting” is being introduced which will not involve "theatrical" stunts or tricks. During a presentation to shareholders, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said that the new attraction will focus on conservation:
[Visitors] want experiences that are more natural and look more natural... We actually think it’s a good thing because our guests will resonate with it more. The theatrical production of the show in that market is what they wanted to see less of.
Manby went on to clarify that while no humans will appear in the shows for trained tricks, things whales do in the wild - like jump and dance - will still be part of the programme.
Since the critically acclaimed documentary Blackfish was released in 2013, SeaWorld has been under increasing pressure over alleged mistreatment of killer whales and the risks associated with keeping them in captivity. Since 1991 three people have died at SeaWorld California after coming into contact with one of the park's male orcas.
Share prices have plummeted and the California park has struggled to retain visitor numbers.
SeaWorld criticised the documentary as "inaccurate" and "propaganda".
Slate reports that the company's 2014 promise to build bigger environments for its whales came to nothing when the state of California blocked the development unless SeaWorld agreed to stop breeding orcas and purchasing animals captured in the wild.
Any new spending on improving the whales' habitats will be "minimal," Manby said on Monday.
The announcement also comes just a few days after California introduced a law banning breeding of killer whales in captivity. The company has made no mention about any changes to how orcas are treated at their other parks in Texas and Florida.
According to Ceta and Orca Home, the US is home to almost half of the killer whales kept in captivity around the world: