SeaWorld to expand orca habitats at its parks
SeaWorld announced this morning that it will expand the orca facilities at all of its theme parks, nearly doubling their size and crafting a more natural-looking environment.
Concept art courtesy SeaWorld
The "Blue World Project" will begin at SeaWorld San Diego, with a planned opening in 2018. According to the park's press release, "With a planned maximum depth of 50 feet, surface area of nearly 1.5 acres and spanning more than 350 feet in length, the new environment will also have views exceeding 40 feet in height, providing guests with the world’s largest underwater viewing experience of killer whales."
Concept art courtesy SeaWorld
“Through up-close and personal encounters, the new environment will transform how visitors experience killer whales,” SeaWorld CEO and President Jim Atchison said in a statement. “Our guests will be able to walk alongside the whales as if they were at the shore, watch them interact at the depths found in the ocean, or a birds-eye view from above.”
This follows a trend among zoos to create larger, more natural-looking environments for their animals, eschewing the basic, utilitarian exhibits of the past. To that end, SeaWorld has assembled an advisory panel of scientists and researchers to oversee the creation of the new habitat, including representatives of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the American Humane Association, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the University of California. New orca habitats will follow in Orlando and San Antonio.
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Okay, some analysis: This looks great, but it looks more like something I'd expect to see at a world-class zoo or aquarium, and not necessarily like a theme park attraction.
Which is fine -- despite what some idealistically naive people believe, we need zoos and aquariums to lead research and inspire people to want to protect natural habitats. SeaWorld's long tried to walk a line that connects theme parks with zoos and aquariums. But if SeaWorld's looking to reverse an attendance slide that began in 2010 with the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau and the removal of the orca trainers from the water (not to mention the sale of the parks from their long-time owner Anheuser-Busch following the brewer's takeover by InBev), one ought to note that theme parks draw a lot more people than zoos and aquariums. The only accredited zoo in the country that draws more annual visitors than the SeaWorld parks is Disney's Animal Kingdom, which for years actually promoted itself as "not a zoo."
So I wish SeaWorld well with this project. But if SeaWorld wants to compete with theme parks, and reverse its attendance slide, it's going to need more than better habitat exhibits, even as impressive as this one appears to be.
Clearly an effort to try and help undo the damage caused by the Blackfish documentary. Sea World also reported a very disappointing second quarter which again is most likely due to the backlash of the documentary.
If this were to appease the Blackfish documentary supporters, why would they invest in something that the documentary aims to eliminate. Blackfish not only criticizes the orca habitats and performances, but the very fact that the whales are maintained in captivity. To me, this is a big middle finger to the Blackfish backers, and investment into the icons of their most profitable parks. To those who seek to criticize the very nature of orca captivity, Sea World has chosen to put a huge amount of money where its mouth is, and is doubling-down on the very thing Blackfish attempted to eliminate.
SeaWorld is more of a zoo than Animal Kingdom. AK can be encapsulated in one word... safari ride. Most other rides and attractions have nothing to do with animals. The Avatar addition has even less to do with animals.
The concept art looks beautiful, and overall I think this is a wonderful expansion for the Orcas.
@Nick: No typo. Actually, you read it incorrectly and this happens a lot. I said "the research should not necessarily be taken seriously".
Annon Mouse- I read what you wrote correctly. Using word "necessarily" does not change the context of the sentence- it idea is the same with or without it. I maintain that just because SeaWorld (and DAK) are theme parks does NOT mean that the (their) research should not be taken seriously. In other words, your statement is not necessarily true.
Nick: if the research is valuable, one death of a trainer should not derail their mission, but the opponents appear to not find their research and conservation objectives to be compelling. When I say "necessarily", it means irrelevant. For you to come back and say "your statement is not necessarily true", well, who cares? Whatever.
I don't think it is necessarily the documentary that has hurt them. You know why? I think there is a lot of people like me that would say: What is Blackfish? Is this something people have actually watched?
@Anon - " if the research is valuable, one death of a trainer should not derail their mission, but the opponents appear to not find their research and conservation objectives to be compelling."
This is not as great as it seems - worse case scenario, it will aid the animals as they live out their final years. Best case scenario, it fails and Seaworld has to refocus their efforts. Because it still doesn't deal with the core issues that have been exposed about Seaworld, (and I don't just mean Blackfish - it merely pulled back the curtain only slightly) etc: forced breeding at a young age, movement of 'faux' family units, repetitive behaviours, and food-based incentives as well as obviously, tiny tiny pools which result in agression ( which this expansion will only help by a fraction).
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