Attendance is down at SeaWorld and the only time the brand’s name seems to appear in the news is related to protestors getting upset about how it treats its unpaid performers such as Shamu, the killer whale.
Those protestors can now put one notch into their non-animal skin belts: After next year, the SeaWorld in San Diego won’t feature Shamu doing splash-filled tricks and will instead put on a show that is more about how orcas behave in the wild, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The brand hopes consumers will remember it also pours money into conservation efforts and isn’t just about teaching ocean life to jump on command.
“We start everything by listening to our guests and evolving our shows to what we’re hearing, and so far that’s what we’ve been hearing in California, they want experiences that are more natural and experiences that look more natural in the environment,” CEO Joel Manby said Monday, according to the paper. “But it’s not universal across our properties.” There’s no word on what will happen to the Shamu shows at the SeaWorlds in Orlando, Florida, and San Antonio, Texas.
— Animal Protection (@MoveTheWorld) November 10, 2015
That lack of universality is extremely bothersome to both lawmakers and protestors. “An end to SeaWorld’s tawdry circus-style shows is inevitable and necessary, but it’s captivity that denies these far-ranging orcas everything that is natural and important to them.” said PETA Foundation Director of Animal Law Jared Goodman, according to the Union-Tribune.
Naomi Rose, a marine scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, told NBC News that SeaWorld needs to do a lot more: “This is incremental,” said Rose. “It’s never going to get them to the end goal of truly improving the situation for the orcas there.”
Federal and state politicians have already been working to stop SeaWorld from breeding orcas. The California Coastal Commission voted to keep SeaWorld from continuing to breed orcas in exchange for allowing the company to expand its orca tanks. SeaWorld, of course, will fight that decision.
SeaWorld’s problems have steamrolled since the release of 2013’s Blackfish, which chronicled the orca-captivity issue at SeaWorld.
As part of the brand revamp, SeaWorld has announced a partnership with Evans Hotel Group to develop a SeaWorld hotel. “You’re really just increasing walletshare of people already coming to the park,” Manby told investors during a Monday call, according to VoiceOfSanDiego.com.
As the site notes, to build a hotel, the company has a lot of regulatory hoops to jump through. Those hoops seem to be a nice invitation to one of the legislators who has come out against breeding orcas to make the construction contingent upon a ban in a similar move to the Coastal Commission. However, if SeaWorld can buy a hotel rather than construct one, it may get around a number of the barriers currently in place.
Either way, SeaWorld remains a troubled brand that is attempting to swim upstream to respectability. It remains to be seen if this move will help it get there or end up being another stop-off point in a disappearance from cultural relevance.