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So Long Shamu Show

In the face of criticism, SeaWorld is retiring its controversial killer whale show

(Tony Arruza/CORBIS)
smithsonian.com

After years of criticism and high-profile protests against SeaWorld’s iconic killer whale show, the San Diego park announced yesterday that it will phase out the “Shamu show” by 2017. Park representatives say they will replace the controversial performance with an “informative” attraction that will highlight themes of conservation, Lori Weisberg reports for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The plan comes on the heels of southern California Congressman Rep. Adam Schiff’s announcement last week that he will introduce a bill this month banning both breeding orcas in captivity and capturing wild killer whales. The bill, called the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA) Act, would effectively end the park’s shows once the existing animals die.

“We cannot be responsible stewards of our natural environment and propagate messages about the importance of animal welfare when our behaviors do not reflect our principles,” Schiff said in a statement. “The ORCA Act ensures that this will be the last generation of orcas who live in captivity, and we will appreciate these incredible creatures where they belong – in the wild.”

The marine park has spent the last several years fighting against allegations of abuse and inhumane conditions for the orcas at its parks brought by the 2013 documentary "Blackfish." SeaWorld holds 24 of the 25 captive orcas in the United States between its three parks across the country, Hugo Martin reports for The L.A. Times.

Although no wild orcas have been captured in U.S. waters since 1976, it is still legal to obtain a permit to take them from the wild under federal law, Kelsey Warner reports for The Christian Science Monitor. In response to Schiff’s announcement, the marine park’s representatives said they do not abuse or neglect their orcas, Martin writes.

"Through our work with scientists, conservation leaders, and the government SeaWorld is ensuring that all animals in human care are treated with the dignity and respect they require and deserve," SeaWorld Entertainment spokesperson Jill Kermes tells Martin.

While the announcement said SeaWorld San Diego will discontinue its killer whale show by 2017, it made no mention of the parks in Orlando and San Antonio, both of which advertise killer whale shows of their own. According to the announcement, the San Diego park will allocate part of the money for a $100 million plan to expand its orca habitats to developing the new attraction. The California Coastal Commission, which oversees construction projects along the coastline, has approved the project on the condition that SeaWorld discontinue its orca breeding program and not import any new killer whales – a condition that the park plans on fighting in court, Martin reports.

Even if Schiff’s bill passes, orca captivity still may continue for decades, as SeaWorld’s orcas range in age from 10 months to 50 years old; in captivity, orcas can live between 30 and 46 years. But while SeaWorld is still defending its practices against protests and criticism, the Shamu show’s days in the spotlight may soon be over.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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