SeaWorld San Diego Pledges To Double The Size Of Orca Environment, Spend $10M On Research

What’s a company that makes its money off captive marine life to do when a documentary stirs up controversy? If you’re SeaWorld, you start coming up with ways to quell the critics: SeaWorld San Diego announced today that it’s going to double the size of its orca environment and spend $10 million in research on killer whales, as well as setting up an independent advisory committee with scientists to supervise its orca program.

The Blue World Project will basically double the current area where the orcas hang out, spanning 1.5 acres with 50-foot deep waters and stretching 350 feet in length, reports the Los Angeles Times. There will also be a viewing window down below for visitors to see the whales from underwater.

“Through up-close and personal encounters, the new environment will transform how visitors experience killer whales,” Jim Atchison, chief executive officer and president of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., 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.”

The 10 whales in San Diego will have to wait until 2018 for the project to be finished, while other SeaWorld Parks in Orlando and San Antonio will also introduce similar improvements, officials said.

The advisory group will be put in place to maximize the “health and well-being” of the orcas, and includes an emeritus professor at the UC Davis veterinary school, a researcher at UC Santa Cruz, a physiologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, and more.

That hefty chunk of change SeaWorld is pledging toward research will go to projects sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to study how orcas hear, reproduce and eat in the wild.

But will that be enough for critics, who decry the very fact that such animals are kept in captivity in the first place? Probably not, if the response from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is any indication.

“This is a desperate drop-in-the-bucket move to try to turn back the hands of time when people understand the suffering of captive orcas, and it will not save the company,” said the group’s director of animal law, Jared Goodman. “A bigger prison is still a prison.”

Today’s announcement seems to be an effort to soothe worried investors on Wall Street, after SeaWorld’s economic fortunes took a turn for the worse after the documentary Blackfish. Shares of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. dropped 33% this week, after the company’s earnings fell short of expectations.

Amid ‘Blackfish’ backlash, SeaWorld to expand orca environments [Los Angeles Times]

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