SeaWorld has finally put an end to its orca breeding program

Since the 2013 release of Blackfish—a damning documentary about the ethical aspects and dangers of holding orca whales in captivity—SeaWorld has more or less dealt with an unending PR nightmare.

But the ocean-themed park is trying to change and today, in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, CEO Joel Manby announced the park’s most sweeping reforms: In 2016, the park will phase out its orca whale breeding program completely and discontinue its orca whale shows.

“For some time, SeaWorld has faced a paradox,” writes Manby. “Customers visit our marine parks, in part, to watch orcas. But a growing number of people don’t think orcas belong in human care.”

For the safety of the whales, who have been raised in captivity all or most of their lives, SeaWorld won’t be releasing its orcas into the sea, but the orcas currently living at the parks will be the last generation of whales to live at SeaWorld.

“We are proud of contributing to the evolving understanding of one of the world’s largest marine mammals,” Manby writes, touching on orcas’ reputation as “killer” whales. “Now we need to respond to the attitudinal change that we helped to create.”

So, what is the future of SeaWorld without the most significant part of its identity and brand? According to Manby, the next phase in SeaWorld’s life will see it double down on its conservation efforts. The company will partner with the 62-year-old Humane Society of America to “work against commercial whaling and seal hunts, shark finning and ocean pollution.”

“Without a critical mass of informed and energized people, humanity will never make the difficult decisions that are necessary to halt and reverse the exploitation of wild places and the extinction of wild species,” Manby concludes. “SeaWorld will continue to create the constituency for conservation, just as we helped to inspire the changing attitudes that, in turn, inspired our company’s changing policies.”