SeaWorld announces plans for new killer whale habitats
Finally, some good news to report about SeaWorld: After more than a year of battling with advocates for marine mammals and the makers of the movie Blackfish, SeaWorld has announced plans to make significant changes to killer-whale habitats at its parks. According to a media announcement and artist renderings released today, SeaWorld plans to create more natural environments for its whales, nearly doubling current habitats in size (the new whale habitat, SeaWorld says, will be 1.5 acres, contain 10 million gallons of water and be 350 feet long). The new pools will also have an underwater current to provide whales with a more challenging physical and mental environment.
Called the Blue World Project, the habitat will also give park visitors an enhanced experience: People will be able to view the huge marine mammals from a shoreline perspective, via a 40-foot-tall glass wall in an underwater tank or from an overhead view. Construction on the first new whale habitat will begin in the San Diego park, which is expected to unveil the new whale exhibit in 2018. Parks in Orlando and San Antonio will follow.
The company says it also plans to put $10 million toward killer whale research and conservation efforts, and it will establish an independent advisory board to offer feedback and suggestions.
The announcement comes less than a week after news broke that SeaWorld’s stock had fallen more than 30 percent, presumably due to bad publicity stemming from Blackfish. The movie suggested (among other things) that lack of stimulation in the sterile, artificial environments whales currently live in at SeaWorld parks has a negative effect on them and could be a contributing factor in aggressive behavior toward SeaWorld trainers. One former SeaWorld trainer interviewed in the movie, John Hargrove, told Orlando Weekly in 2013 that he’d like SeaWorld to invest as much money in improving habitats for its killer whales as it does creating water parks and entertaining diversions for guests. Though SeaWorld has doggedly defended its marine-mammal husbandry practices, arguing that the movie’s claims are inaccurate and misleading, it seems some part of what Hargrove said in the films may have had some validity.