August 15, 2014
Facing bad publicity and lower attendance but buoyed by increased revenue from higher ticket prices, SeaWorld has announced an expansion of its killer whale habitats.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, the company plans to upgrade whale tanks at three of its theme parks, beginning with its San Diego location, where the new enclosure will be almost double the size of the current one, holding about 10 million gallons of water and extending to a depth of 50 feet. The company said it also pledged $10 million for research about killer whales.
Animal-rights activists say it’s cruel to train and publicly perform the whales — a criticism introduced to a wider public by the 2013 documentary film “Blackfish.” Jim Atchison, SeaWorld’s chief executive officer, counters that the new facilities will set the standard for man-made killer whale habitats.
The San Diego facility will include a treadmill system that lets whales swim against moving water, giving them more exercise and allowing researchers to study how the animals burn energy. Similar upgrades are planned for SeaWorld parks in Orlando, Fla., and San Antonio, the Journal reports.
Critics say SeaWorld’s business has fallen out of favor with the public. “You don’t have dancing bears or tigers jumping through hoops anymore,” said Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute. “So why do we still have sea animals performing tricks?” — Greg Beaubien