SeaWorld: Current Generation of Killer Whales Will Be Our Last

So long, Shamu! On Thursday, March 17, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby announced that the current crop of trained killer whales, or orcas, living in captivity will be the theme parks’ last. The company will no longer be breeding them and is putting a stop to its theatrical orca shows.

“We are proud of contributing to the evolving understanding of one of the world's largest marine mammals,” Manby wrote in an essay for the Los Angeles Times. “Now we need to respond to the attitudinal change that we helped to create — which is why SeaWorld is announcing several historic changes. This year we will end all orca breeding programs — and because SeaWorld hasn't collected an orca from the wild in almost four decades, this will be the last generation of orcas in SeaWorld's care.”

SeaWorld San Diego’s orca shows will end first, in 2017, “followed by San Antonio and then Orlando in 2019.”

The embattled company’s decision to say goodbye to the "Shamu" show that made its parks a success comes three years after the release of Blackfish — a documentary exposing the dangers of removing orcas from their natural habitats.

Following heavy criticism, SeaWorld is focusing their efforts on “new, inspiring, natural orca encounters” that will stress "orca enrichment, exercise and overall health" while their killer whales continue to live at the parks.

The Killer Whale show at Sea World in San Diego, California.
The Killer Whale show at Sea World in San Diego, California. Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

While animal rights activists and watchdog groups have put pressure on SeaWorld to release their orcas into the wild immediately, Manby explained why that isn’t a feasible option.

“Most of our orcas were born at SeaWorld, and those that were born in the wild have been in our parks for the majority of their lives. If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die,” he wrote. “In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild. Even the attempt to return the whale from ‘Free Willy,’ Keiko, who was born in the wild, was a failure.”

"They will continue to receive the highest-quality care based on the latest advances in marine veterinary medicine, science, and zoological best practices," SeaWorld said of the whales in a statement. "Guests will be able to observe these orcas through the new educational encounters and in viewing areas within the existing habitats."

PETA, which has tirelessly pushed for SeaWorld to end its orca confinement, expressed praise for the move.

"PETA has campaigned hard, and now there is a payoff for future generations of orcas," PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk said in a statement. "SeaWorld must open its tanks to the oceans to allow the orcas it now holds captive to have some semblance of a life outside these prison tanks."

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