In an interesting turn of events, SeaWorld Entertainment announced that it’s ending its orca breeding program (effective immediately) and theatrical orca whale shows (phasing out over the next year). Despite public backlash from the documentary “Blackfish” and onerous coastal development conditions imposed by the California Coastal Commission, SeaWorld has steadfastly argued that it has a right to continue its’ orca breeding practices. In fact, this is one of SeaWorld’s primary arguments in its lawsuit filed in late 2015.
According to Joel Manby, the President and CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment, the decision was based on the shift in public perception of killer whales. Manby pointed to the paradox facing SeaWorld in that customers visit the parks to see the killer whales, but a growing number of people do not believe that the orcas belong in human care. As evidence of this shift, Manby referenced the proposed legislation intended to phase out orca captivity and the California Coastal Commission’s ban on orca breeding practices. Further, Manby emphasized that SeaWorld will continue its work as one of the largest rescue organizations in the world and will strive to highlight the “constituency for conservation” in its parks (inspired by the company’s changing policies).
Surely, this decision will drastically change SeaWorld as we know it, but it’s unclear how this may affect the current litigation against the Coastal Commission and whether these changes may encourage meaningful settlement discussions. We will be following this story as further updates regarding the litigation are sure to follow in the aftermath of this announcement.
L. Sue Loftin is the Founder and Shareholder of The Loftin Firm. For questions relating to this blog or any other California real estate, corporate governance, land use, or estate planning matter, contact Ms. Loftin at 760-814-9649.