SeaWorld presented project details for expanding the park’s orca habitat at a public meeting Tuesday with San Diego’s park and recreation board, drawing media and attention from animal rights protesters.
The presentation followed a Friday announcement that orca habitats at all three of the organization’s parks will nearly double, and Sea Lion and dolphin exhibits in San Antonio will be upgraded, as $10 million in orca research funding is added.
San Diego’s SeaWorld park was host to the announcement of the organization’s massive “Blue World Project” habitat expansion last August. The San Diego whale habitat is planned to stretch over nearly 1.5 acres, hold 10.5 million gallons of water and plunge to a depth of 50 feet with features including a fast current “whale treadmill.”
A SeaWorld Entertainment release stated, “As part of its vision for the future, the company also pledged $10 million in matching funds for killer whale research and is embarking on a multi-million dollar partnership focused on ocean health, the leading concern for all killer whales and marine mammals.”
Outgoing SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Jim Atchison and West Side park President Dan Decker said Friday the changes are not in response to the controversial 2013 Blackfish documentary or subsequent criticism of the company and its parks, ABC 10 News reports. Atchison and Decker stated plans have been in the works for years.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) protester signs read, “A bigger prison is still a prison,” “Boycott Seaworld,” “Seaworld: Don’t Renovate! Release!” and “Seaworld Exposed, Watch Blackfish,” as shown in a San Diego Channel 6 News broadcast.
SeaWorld Entertainment’s stock price dropped sharply last August and has remained 25-45% down since, according to data on the company’s website.
In September reports of a new lawsuit against SeaWorld detailed investor attempts to recover losses suffered in the fallout from Blackfish. The production heavily criticized SeaWorld and cited the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in its condemnation of the park.
Brancheau’s family later released a statement that included the trainer’s belief in the ethical treatment of animals and that, “Dawn would not have remained a trainer at SeaWorld for 15 years if she felt that the whales were not well cared for.”
Last May, Breitbart reported on California legislation aimed at shutting down SeaWorld’s captive breeding program and orca shows. Assembly Bill 2140, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, was reportedly authored in response to Blackfish. As of May, the legislature had called for an additional study that delayed a vote for approximately a year.
Construction on the expanded SeaWorld habitats in San Diego is slated to begin in late 2015 and open in 2018, according to 10 News. Similar changes will be made at the organization’s Orlando and San Antonio sites.
SeaWorld’s CEO Jim Atchison is stepping down from his position on January 15, taking another post as the company’s Vice Chairman according to the International Business Times. IBT pointed to troubles at SeaWorld pre-dating the release of Blackfish.
PETA has engaged in several offensives against SeaWorld including anti-SeaWorld ads in airports and praising celebrity acts of vandalism attacking the animal park.
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