News Column

SeaWorld to expand killer whale habitat at its parks

August 15, 2014

By Sandra Pedicini, Orlando Sentinel

Aug. 15--SeaWorld will expand the killer-whale habitats at its theme parks, starting in San Diego, the company announced today.

SeaWorld called the habitats "new, first-of-its-kind killer whale environments" that "will offer park guests unique and inspiring killer whale encounters for generations to come."

An artist's rendering depicts a natural setting with rocks, a small beach and grasses.

The Orlando-based company made the announcement two days after posting poor second-quarter earnings that sent its stock plunging more than 30 percent. SeaWorld acknowledged then that controversy over keeping its orcas in captivity had hurt attendance.

Debate over keeping killer whales in captivity was brought into the mainstream press by the 2013 documentary "Blackfish."

The first expansion will take place at SeaWorld San Diego, where the killer-whale environment is planned to have a total water volume of 10 million gallons, nearly double that of the existing facility. The new habitat will also have views exceeding 40 feet in height, providing what SeaWorld said is the world's largest underwater viewing experience of killer whales.

"Through up-close and personal encounters, the new environment will transform how visitors experience killer whales," Chief Executive Officer Jim Atchison said in a press release. "Our guests will be able to walk alongside the whales as if they were at the shore, watch them interact at the depths found in the ocean, or a birds-eye view from above."

Among other things, the upgrade is planned to include a "fast water current" that allows whales to swim against moving water, thus providing more exercise.

Animal-rights activists were not placated by the announcement.

"This is a desperate drop-in-the-bucket move to try to turn back the hands of time at a time when people understand the suffering of captive orcas, and it will not save the company," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a statement.

"What could save it would be the recognition that it needs not to make larger tanks but to turn the orcas out in seaside sanctuaries so that they can feel and experience the ocean again, hear their families, and one day be reunited with them. A bigger prison is still a prison."

SeaWorld also pledged $10 million in matching funds for killer whale research and said it is embarking on a" multimillion-dollar partnership focused on ocean health."


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Source: Orlando Sentinel (FL)

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