Last week the California Coastal Commission decided to ban orca breeding at SeaWorld San Diego in exchange for approval of the park’s proposed orca tank expansion, the “Blue World” project. The $100 million project would double the tank size for the 11 orcas now in captivity. Sea World had already agreed to not capture orcas from the wild (which it hasn’t done in 35 years) as a condition of the project’s approval. Now, without the ability to allow for natural breeding, the Commission’s ban could spell the end of killer whale shows at SeaWorld San Diego and eventually even Orlando as a result.
It’s hard to imagine SeaWorld without the first ten rows of seats known as the “splash zone” in Shamu Stadium. It’s hard to imagine it without Shamu. Such an impression was left on me as a child upon first seeing the killer whale fly high in the air and land with a tidal wave splash in its tank that I could not wait to give my eight-year-old daughter Reagan the same experience. We visited SeaWorld Orlando for the first time together as a family last spring. Arriving early enough at Shamu Stadium to have our pick of seats, we chose to sit half-way up the splash zone and giggled in anticipation of getting gloriously soaking wet. We left as dry as we arrived – unlike many others in the rows to the left and right of us. A stuffed Shamu toy still became Reagan’s most desired souvenir upon leaving the park that day.
It is through fun and learning during shows and exhibits like the Shamu show that SeaWorld hopes to inspire visitors young and old to have a deeper understanding, respect and desire to protect all wildlife. That message – conveyed through exhibits, interpretive and interactive graphics as well as narration during shows – is a constant throughout their parks. It was impressive to learn the day we visited just how many animals’ lives have been saved through the research and work SeaWorld does.
SeaWorld will now be weighing its options about whether to 1.) Proceed with the Blue World project and allow its orca population to go extinct, 2.) Scrap the tank expansion in order to continue its breeding practices or 3.) Fight the California Coastal Commission in court. The future of Shamu and the research program that is helping to save the lives of orcas in the wild, hangs in the balance as we await the final outcome.